At the beginning of the season, could you have predicted this?
I posed that question to California baseball coach Don Hartman and Canon-McMillan softball coach Michele Moeller last week regarding Brian Fisher and Alayna Astuto, the Observer-Reporter Players of the Year for baseball and softball, respectively.
Neither Hartman nor Moeller, as I figured, said they could have called this. Despite being very good players, Astuto and Fisher were not thought elite-level talents.
They are now.
And rightfully so.
Fisher went from throwing 16 innings as a junior to winning 10 games as a senior – or, put another way, more games than he had won his entire baseball year combined until this point.
Astuto, meanwhile, was considered an above-average pitcher, a first team All-District pick a season ago after leading the Big Macs to their first WPIAL title in 2012.
Yet many, myself included, thought of Canon-McMillan more as an offensive juggernaut, not a team with an ace who would throw a perfect game or nine innings of no-hit ball in the PIAA Class AAAA final.
“I don’t think I would have ever envisioned it early on,” Moeller said of Astuto, who struck out 142 batters and had an ERA of 1.06 in 145 innings. “I’ve always known she was talented. But I wouldn’t have envisioned ‘Player of the Year.’”
When I called Hartman a few months ago to talk about the upcoming season, he expected Josh Luko to take over No. 1 pitching duties for T.D. Conway.
Sure, Fisher would get more innings, but he was still considered more of a basketball player, not someone who would punch up a 2.17 ERA and win four playoff games for the Trojans.
“We came into this season looking at Josh Luko, knowing that he pitched more than Brian last year,” Hartman said.
The key, Hartman said, was Fisher committing 100 percent to baseball once basketball ended. He went heavy on the mechanics with pitching coach Nick Damico, another crafty lefty. He thrust himself fully into pitching and came out better for it.
I saw Fisher pitch against Carmichaels early in the year, and he was solid, not spectacular. Basically a basketball player staying occupied in the spring.
By the playoffs – the Trojans’ PIAA Class A quarterfinal against Our Lady of Sacred Heart should go down as Fisher’s signature game – I watched a baseball player with a basketball past, a left-handed stud who would do anything to will his team to victory.
Hartman saw the same thing.
“It was neat to watch a young man progress throughout the season and get better and better every day until he really turned into what he turned into during the playoff run,” Hartman said. “He was pretty good at the beginning of the season, but he wasn’t as good at the beginning of the season as he was toward the end.”
Isn’t that what this is all about, kids bettering themselves through sports?
“It’s a story that I think I’ll tell the rest of my coaching days,” Hartman added. “That if you’re a kid who works hard at your game, good things are going to happen. He’s living proof of that, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
Hartman is as good – and honest – as they come. Same with Moeller. Both will give accurate portrayals of their teams at all times, and it’s that honesty that goes a long way with reporters. Both also know the game.
Neither saw these dueling ascensions to greatness.
And that’s what made Fisher and Astuto so fun to cover.
No one else did either.
Jason Mackey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.