Canon-McMillan returns solid nucleus from WPIAL championship team

March 13, 2013
Canon McMillan’s Giorgiana Zerremenko, sliding ahead of a tag by Peters Township’s Abby Cunningham, will return for the Big Macs this season. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

With only two seniors and one starter lost to graduation, the Canon-McMillan girls softball team finds itself in a different position than it did a year ago.

Last spring, head coach Michele Moeller was pretty sure she had a good team, albeit a young one.

Now, Moeller has spent the offseason and early workouts preparing the Big Macs for the task of defending their WPIAL Class AAAA championship.

“We’ve talked to the players about it,” said Moeller. “They’re used to being the underdog. This is going to be a change of direction. They’ve got a target on them. But I think they’re up to the challenge.”

The Big Macs were good during the 2012 regular season, going 13-5 and sharing the Section 4-AAAA title with Peters Township. They caught fire in the playoffs, overwhelming opponents with a power-laden lineup and the pitching of Alayna Astuto to roll to a WPIAL championship and into the PIAA semifinals.

“We really peaked at the right time,” Moeller said.

Much of the nucleus of that team returns with juniors Olivia Lorusso, Giorgiana Zeremenko and sophomore Abby McCartney providing perhaps the most feared top of a batting order since the 1927 Yankees.

The young trio banged 21 home runs last season, many of them coming in postseason play.

“The challenge for us is going to be to repeat some of those things,” said Moeller. “But they’ve grown noticeably in the past year.”

That has to be a disconcerting thought for opposing pitchers.

Speaking of pitching, the Big Macs have plenty of that, as Astuto returns for her senior season after a solid junior year. The Big Macs also return senior Kayla Kiger and sophomore Tara Fowler, giving them three capable starters.

“Alayna is still the starter, but as we found out last year it’s good to have two,” Moeller said. “Alayna had a sore arm against Norwin in the playoffs, and Kayla came in and did a good job. We’ll probably get Kayla some more work this season just to be prepared.”

That’s not to say that everything is great for the Big Macs.

Starting shortstop Veronica Rothka suffered a torn ACL playing indoor soccer and will miss the season.

Replacing Rothka, a three-year starter, wasn’t something Moeller planned on, but she feels she has the answers in her dugout.

Freshman Linda Rush will get the first opportunity to play shortstop, and Rothka will remain with the team throughout the season to offer tips on how to handle the position.

“She’s got a unique opportunity,” Moeller said of Rush. “If Veronica hadn’t gone down, we would have only been looking to fill one spot.”

Moeller has a backup plan as well. Lorusso could slide over from her third base spot to play short, or McCartney could move in from right field.

Moeller would rather see Rush succeed.

“We’re trying not to reinvent the wheel and change too many positions,” Moeller said. “We’d like to keep people at the positions they are at.”

If things fall right again, the Big Macs could be poised for another long run in the postseason, provided they don’t succumb to the pressure of having a target placed squarely on their backs as the defending WPIAL champs.

“That part all comes with it,” Moeller said. “They understand that.”

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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