CANONSBURG – Canon-McMillan freshman Brittney Crawford never felt comfortable at first base.
After the Big Macs lost Maddie Engel, a senior on last year’s team who batted .314 with 18 RBI, Big Macs head coach Michele Moeller decided to give her highly touted freshman a shot at filling Engel’s position.
An outfielder by trade, Crawford filled in admirably at the plate with a .422 batting average entering Thursday, but she committed five errors trying to field a position she had never played before. Moeller decided to move Crawford to left field and try sophomore McKenzie Jacobs at first base.
The piece of mind that came with playing her natural position translated to a breakout offensive performance for Crawford as the freshman went 3-for-4 with a three-run homer to lead Canon-McMillan past Section 4-AAAA rival Baldwin, 12-5, at North Strabane Immediate School Field Thursday.
“It’s a lot better playing my real position,” Crawford said. “I’m definitely more comfortable and it’s pretty much translated to my hitting. It’s insane how I’ve been hitting this early.”
Canon-McMillan (10-1, 14-2) needed every bit of Crawford’s offensive output playing against the Highlanders (9-3, 10-3), who defeated the Big Macs 15-3 last month. The section loss was the program’s first in almost two years and put a section title in jeopardy.
Thursday’s victory put the Big Macs in the driver’s seat for the section title, and a seven-run second inning – sparked by Crawford – gave Canon-McMillan the insurance it needed against a young Baldwin team out to prove it belongs in the playoff race.
The teams traded runs in the first inning before the Highlanders took a 2-1 lead into the second on sophomore shortstop Ashley Brady’s RBI-double. A seven-hit, seven-run second helped the Big Macs avoid defeat.
Canon-McMillan sophomore Jada Kemp reached on a one-out infield single and sophomore shortstop Linda Rush followed with a single to left field. When Kemp sped around second to attempt to take third base, the throw beat her to the bag. However, the shortstop blocking the basepath led to an obstruction call and Kemp was awarded third base with one out.
Crawford came to the plate, and on the second pitch of the at-bat, hit a fly ball that landed over the fence in left field for a three-run homer. On a day where the team’s two biggest offensive threats – senior Olivia Lorusso and junior Abby McCartney – combined for just two RBI, Moeller was pleased to see players like Crawford fill the void.
“(Brittney) is one of those kids who will get better every year,” Moeller said. “I couldn’t be happier to see her succeed. She’s a hard worker and she’s never satisfied. (McCartney and Lorusso) didn’t have their best game and everyone else stepped up.”
Senior catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko, who went 2-for-4 to drive in four runs, had an RBI-triple later in the second and the Big Macs added two more runs to take an 8-2 lead.
Baldwin cut the deficit to 8-4 in the third inning, when sophomore pitcher Anastasia Hale, who went 3-for-3, hit a two-run double, but Canon-McMillan’s offense continued to assert itself as the best in the WPIAL with two more runs in the third and one in the fourth.
“It was good to get that win,” Zeremenko said. “We wanted to show them that we came to play and that we aren’t going anywhere. We plan to stay on top.”
Rush hit a solo home run over the right-field fence in the bottom of the sixth, and pitcher Tara Fowler held the Highlanders scoreless in the final three innings to seal the win.
“They are definitely a team that can hurt you quickly,” Baldwin head coach Samantha Kuharic said. “If you miss a pitch, they can do some damage.”
After losing to the Highlanders in the first meeting and fielding woes becoming more frequent of late, Moeller was pleased to see her team defeat Baldwin with sound defense and consistent pitching from Fowler. One more victory will clinch a section title for the Big Macs.
“We needed to get moving off the bat in this game and we did that,” Moeller said. “We had to get that monkey off our back. That wasn’t our team when we lost and it was our wakeup call. Sometimes you need that, and it was good to see how the girls responded.”