Powerball: Defending state champion Canon-Mac hits 8 home runs in rout

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CANONSBURG – Brittany Crawford was just an eighth-grader last June when the Canon-McMillan High School softball team was making its run to a state title.


As soon as her time in middle school came to an end, she started counting down the days until she could join the Big Macs’ quest to repeat as Class AAAA state champions.


More than nine months later, she is proving it was well worth the wait. Crawford hit two of her team’s record-breaking eight home runs and drove in three runs to lead Canon-McMillan to a 17-3 five-inning win over Section 4-AAAA rival Chartiers Valley Tuesday at North Strabane Field.


Crawford’s immediate impact is no surprise to C-M coach Michele Moeller. The freshman has been playing in fall leagues with older competition since she was 11 years old. Tasked with filling the hole left when last year’s starting first baseman Maddie Engle graduated, Crawford has passed the test for Canon-McMillan (4-0, 4-0).


“I’ve been anxious to join this team for months,” Crawford said. “It’s such a great team and I’m very excited with how we’ve started. I really didn’t expect to have this type of impact so fast.”


Four days after the Big Macs broke the program’s record with five home runs against Brashear, they took advantage of the wind blowing out at North Strabane with four home runs in the first inning, including Crawford’s two-run shot over the left field fence.


Junior Abby McCartney and senior Olivia Lorusso followed with home runs for the Big Macs. Lorusso has picked up where she left off last season and was dominant against the Colts (2-2, 2-2). The third baseman and Robert Morris recruit went 4-for-4 with two home runs, two singles and six runs batted in.


“In all of my years of coaching and being around this game, I’ve never seen kids hit the ball like this,” Moeller said. “They are very strong. The new girls have played high-level travel ball, so I know they are talented and, of course, we have the girls returning, but it’s incredible how strong they’ve been at bat.”


Five different players hit home runs for Canon-McMillan, including three players with two each: Crawford, Lorusso and senior second baseman Ally Bellaire, who hit just three in 26 games last year. The Big Macs have hit 17 home runs in just four games.


The strong first inning spotted the Big Macs a 6-0 lead and they did not stop there. Sophomore shortstop Linda Rush added a solo home run to lead off the second inning and Crawford hit a fastball in a 2-2 count over the center field fence.


“I think we came out excited to begin this year,” Lorusso said. “We knew we had strong bats coming back and girls with a lot of experience, but it’s really exciting to see the freshmen doing well. We were a little nervous about them being ready to step in until we saw them bat.”


The strong offensive performance is something Moeller was counting on. With Canon-McMillan attempting to replace pitcher Alayna Astuto, the 2013 Observer-Reporter Player of the Year, scoring runs to help junior Tara Fowler ease into her role as the staff’s ace is important.


The Big Macs have done that and then some. Fowler took advantage by earning the win after striking out four, and bent but did not break as Chartiers Valley stranded six baserunners.


“When we started the season, we knew were we going to have to allow her time to get comfortable on the rubber until she settled in,” Moeller said. “It’s still so early, but I’m very pleased. She’s been consistent and we just need to get her some reps out there to get her ready.”


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