Canon-McMillan’s baseball team was able to avoid allowing a big inning with the help of junior right-handed pitcher Jake Trainor in its first-round victory Friday over North Allegheny.
That was not the case Saturday as Moon erupted for a five-run second inning, and junior right-handed pitcher Colton Hower struck out five of the final eight Big Macs he faced, to defeat Canon-McMillan, 5-3, in a WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal playoff game at Washington & Jefferson’s Ross Memorial Park.
Canon-McMillan’s season ends with a 13-6 record while the Tigers (15-3) advance to play Baldwin (15-2) in the semifinals at a site and time to be determined.
The Big Macs only left five runners on base, but outside of their first three hitters in the batting order, Canon-McMillan went 1-for-16 at the plate with six strikeouts. In contrast, the top three hitters went a combined 5-for-10 with two RBI and three runs.
“We maximized the runners we had on base tonight, but the bottom-half of the order did struggle a bit,” Big Macs head coach Frank Zebrasky said. “We hit a lot of line drives and it seemed like we were always about to come through, but it didn’t happen. You have to give (Hower) credit. He pitched a nice game for them.”
Senior left-handed pitcher Kevin Rush started the game for Canon-McMillan and struggled with his command. Rush hit the game’s leadoff batter and committed a throwing error to advance the runner to third base. Rush walked the following batter, but was able to escape the inning unscathed.
Junior left fielder Chandler Palyas, who reached base in three of his four plate appearances, gave the Big Macs an early 1-0 lead when he scored from third on a double steal in the first inning.
Rush was not so lucky in the second when the Tigers loaded the bases with one walk and back-to-back one-out singles. Moon left fielder Matt Capo walked to score a run and shortstop Joshua Bogats followed with an RBI-single. A passed ball gave the Tigers a 3-1 lead and sophomore Austin Hoffman followed with an RBI-single.
Hoffman dashed toward second on the play and the throw to prevent him from advancing scored another run.
“(Canon-McMillan) knocked us out of the playoffs last year, so we came in with a lot of respect for them,” Moon head coach Dom Santeufemio said. “We knew they would be aggressive. We scored those five runs in the second and just quit for some reason.”
The Tigers’ offense was silenced when sophomore Matt Mish entered the game in relief. Mish struck out a batter to end the second and pitched five shutout innings, allowing just four hits, to give the Big Macs a chance to rally.
“We were geared up to face (Rush), but when they put (Mish) into the game, he threw nothing but breaking balls and the guys didn’t know what to do,” Santeufemio said.
Canon-McMillan junior left fielder Jared Beach hit a two-out, two-run double down the left-field line in the bottom of the third to draw the Big Macs to within two and re-energized the Big Macs’ dugout.
Hower, who is Moon’s second pitcher in the rotation, set a goal for himself to limit Palyas, Beach and Teagan Piechnick. His theory was if he could silence those players, he would be fine.
He did just that by allowing one hit after the third inning and finished the game with seven strikeouts. Canon-McMillan did not have more than one baserunner in an inning the rest of the game, and Hower recorded three strikeouts in the seventh to end the Big Macs’ season.
“I knew I had to watch out for those three guys,” Hower said. “As I went through the order, I noticed they were having trouble hitting my curveball because of the lights so I started throwing that more. I think I did well, but I could not get (Palyas) out and that ticked me off.”
The loss ends the careers of 10 Canon-McMillan seniors, and as much as Zebrasky hates to see another group leave without a championship, he is intrigued by the kids he has returning.
“We’ve always had a nice nucleus of senior leaders and a compliment of younger players,” Zebrasky said. “We’ve got five or six guys coming back next year who are big time players and the expectation next year will be to make it this far or further.”