STATE COLLEGE – Alayna Astuto could have pitched a few more innings, though walking today might’ve been difficult.
Linda Rush, the Canon-McMillan softball team’s shortstop, simply wanted this marathon game to end.
Astuto and Rush, a senior and a freshman, joined forces to carry Canon-McMillan to its first PIAA Class AAAA title by beating Neshaminy, 4-3, in 12 innings at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park.
Astuto struck out 18 batters, Rush clubbed a two-run homer to push the Big Macs ahead for good, and together they celebrated, veteran and newbie, both relishing in Canon-McMillan’s rise to the top of the softball world.
“It just kept going on and on and on,” Astuto said of the 2-hour, 50-minute game that required the international tiebreak rule, meaning a runner started at second base from the 10th inning on. “It was hard, but you just have to keep going strong.”
Rush’s take on what it was like playing what was essentially a doubleheader without any rest?
“Not fun,” said Rush, who collided with left fielder Tara Fowler when Neshaminy tied the score 3-3 in the bottom of the 11th inning. “It was hot. Stressful. And anxiety. That’s all I can say. Crazy.”
Yep, plenty of crazy here.
Start with Astuto, who averaged less than a strikeout per inning (125 in 133) in 24 starts – all wins – prior to Friday’s game.
The Waynesburg-bound pitcher carried a no-hitter into the 10th inning before right fielder Jen Walker singled to left field.
The next hitter, third baseman Selina Alicea, lined a singled to left over a leaping Lorusso to tie the score 1-1, negating Fowler’s run-scoring groundout in the top half of the inning.
Lorusso, Canon-Mac’s slick-fielding third baseman, scooped up a squeeze bunt on the next play and flipped it to catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko to get an out – and preserve the game – before Astuto ended the inning with a strikeout.
Center fielder Yaszmin Kotar made it 2-1 with a sacrifice fly in the 11th, but pitcher Lauren Quense’s double between Rush and Fowler kept the game going.
“That one out in left field, that was all-out hustle, trying to do everything to catch that ball,” Canon-McMillan coach Michele Moeller said. “It is loud. So even if they were calling it, I know it was tough to hear. Normally, either Tara catches it or Linda catches it; they don’t normally collide.”
More crazy followed.
Moeller nearly talked assistant coach Steve Moskal into having Rush bunt Maddie Engel to third to start the 11th – but relented. Rush took one pitch, a ball, before clobbering the next one to deep left center.
That was the second hit of the day for Rush, who stayed back on a changeup and poked it to center for a single in the first inning, one of two hits total through the first nine innings.
“I was thinking, ‘I need to hit this. I need to put the ball in play.’” Rush said of her extra-inning homer, her third of the season and first of the playoffs. “Thank God I did.”
One final dose of crazy followed, as Walker crushed a double halfway up the padded wall in left to score Sarah Snider-Leonhauser.
“It looked pretty close,” Astuto said. “I was hoping it went foul.”
Alicea gave Astuto strikeout No. 18, and pinch-hitter Nikki Wild popped out to Engel to end it, the most historic afternoon in program history complete.
“Boy did they stay and battle,” Moeller said. “I know they were getting tired. But they never gave up.”
The title is the third for a WPIAL team since Class AAAA was formed in 2005; Shaler and Mt. Lebanon won the others. … Friday’s game was tied for the longest PIAA title game in terms of innings. Williamsport beat Baldwin, 1-0, in 12 innings for the 1989 Class AAA title. … Astuto threw 161 pitches, 120 for strikes.