CARLISLE – Yaszmin Kotar had an idea.
After watching right fielder Abby McCartney jam her ankle while sliding into home in the fourth inning of the Canon-McMillan softball team’s PIAA Class AAAA semifinal Tuesday against Pennsbury, Kotar suggested McCartney make her next at-bat a little easier.
“She was saying how her leg got jammed,” Kotar explained. “I told her to hit a home run so she didn’t have to sprint or anything.”
McCartney took Kotar’s advice, crushing a two-run shot into the high grass beyond the center field fence, and the Big Macs barreled into Friday’s state championship game with a 3-1 win over the Falcons at Carlisle High School.
“It felt great,” McCartney said of her jog around the bases – and she wasn’t kidding, as she nearly chased down shortstop Linda Rush, who lined a leadoff single to center.
Kotar, the team’s center fielder and leadoff hitter, had three hits. Pitcher Alayna Astuto retired the final 10 batters of the game. McCartney finished 2-for-4 with three RBI and a run after doubling to score Kotar in the first inning.
In her second at-bat, McCartney reached on an error by the right fielder and slid head-first into third. She was thrown out trying to tag and score, her leg awkwardly ramming into Pennsbury catcher Dani Litivin’s shin guards.
A few tears followed. The trainer was consulted. Big Macs coach Michele Moeller said the team took an “inning-by-inning” approach, each time McCartney asserting she was OK.
She wasn’t lying.
And the result flipped the game in Canon-Mac’s favor, carrying the two-time WPIAL champions into the state final at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park for the first time in program history.
The Big Macs will look for playoff win No. 7 when they play Neshaminy at 12:30 p.m., and McCartney plans on being there.
“I’m fine. Ready to go,” said McCartney, who hit her team’s seventh home run of the postseason. “Can’t wait.”
After McCartney’s bloop double made it 1-0, Canon-Mac escaped a heap of trouble in the bottom half of the inning.
Pennsbury, which scored 27 runs in its previous two playoff games, loaded the bases with no outs before Big Macs pitcher Alayna Astuto got a pair of popups and a fielder’s choice.
“I think it’s a different game if we do something in the first inning,” Pennsbury coach Frank McSherry said. “It looked like we were going to. Just a little overanxious at a couple pitches up. You have to give the pitcher credit for that, too.”
More trouble was averted in the third inning, as Astuto got her first strikeout and threw to first to pick off Jessica Fechtenburg, who was running for Litivin.
Pennsbury (21-5) scored its lone run in the fourth. First baseman Sue Swanicke singled, moved to second on a sacrifice and reached third on a wild pitch. She scored on a low throw to first from Canon-McMillan shortstop Linda Rush.
McCartney’s homer was next, and she patiently waited for the 1-1 pitch, turning on it with her powerful, left-handed swing.
“We knew they had a dangerous lineup,” McSherry said. “You want to keep the bleeding at a minimum. And I think we did a pretty good job of that. If we can hold this team to three runs, normally we’d say that we’re going to score at least three. But they got the big hit when they needed it.”
And Kotar called it.
Then again, with all the firepower Canon-Mac possesses, it’s not as though she picked the Browns to win the Super Bowl.
“We have a lineup, four of ‘em … and I’ve said it before, but big-time players shine in big-time moments,” Moeller said. “They relish that. We have a lot of those kind of kids.”
Astuto gave up six hits, walked one and struck out three. … McCartney came up with the bases loaded in the seventh but flied out to left field. … Playing despite a serious stomach bug, catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko singled in the fourth inning, adjusting nicely on one of Pennsbury pitcher Val Buehler’s changeups.