Canon-McMillan’s softball team may have lost its label as invincible, the Big Macs still have everything to takes to defeat Shaler Thursday for their third straight WPIAL Class AAAA Championship and make a lengthy run in the state playoffs.
Canon-McMillan (18-3) returned several major contributors from last season’s PIAA championship winning squad, but the question mark surrounded the loss of pitcher Alayna Astuto, who was dominant during the Big Macs’ playoff run last year.
Sophomore Tara Fowler took over for Astuto and seems to be improving when it matters the most. Fowler has allowed just four earned runs the past four games for Canon-McMillan and finished the regular season with back-to-back complete game two-hit shutouts.
Fowler will need her defense to help as she does induce more ground balls than fly balls. In the Big Macs’ two losses this season, they committed five errors in both contests – losses to Baldwin and Bethel Park. Canon-McMillan has only committed three in its past four games and will need to continue that pace if the Big Macs are hungry for another state title.
The offense will take care of the rest as Canon-McMillan’s team batting average sits at .448 and the Big Macs have hit an astounding 50 home runs this season – led by senior third baseman Olivia Lorusso’s 15. Lorusso is batting .549 with 43 RBI, 71 runs and 23 extra-base hits.
Center fielder Abby McCartney is also batting .597 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI. As the Big Macs’ third and fourth hitters in the batting order, the duo has helped ease Fowler’s growing pains. The offensive fire power does not stop there. Sophomore shortstop Linda Rush, freshman left fielder Brittney Crawford and senior catcher Gia Zeremenko make the Big Macs the favorite to defeat Shaler Thursday for the title.
It’s difficult to pick against a team with so much playoff experience and a lineup that is unmatched. Add Fowler’s improvement on the mound and a defense that is cleaning up mental mistakes, and the Big Macs have to be the favorite to three-peat as WPIAL champs.
Canon-McMillan is benefited by a lengthy break between the semifinals and championship game as Zeremenko is struggling with an ankle injury. She regained her 2013 form during the second half of the regular season and will be pivotal for the Big Macs’ success.
Shaler enters the WPIAL title game with a 16-3 overall record with wins over Penn-Trafford and Bethel Park in the playoffs. The Titans’ losses came to McKeesport, North Hills and Seneca Valley this season, but it’s never a good idea to read into regular season games.
Shaler defeated Bethel Park, 10-0, in the first round after many pegged the Black Hawks as a darkhorse team in the playoffs. Defeating a team like the Big Macs had the Black Hawks’ seen as a contender, but Canon-McMillan dropped that game after an emotional win over Baldwin.
The Titans have allowed just one run in two playoff games, but they’ll be lucky to get through the first inning Thursday without Canon-McMillan doubling that number.