Canon-McMillan has built a reputation as one of the hardest hitting softball teams in the WPIAL. Rightfully so, as the Big Macs are batting .448 as a team with a combined 50 home runs and 265 runs driven in.
It was not the long ball that sent Canon-McMillan to a victory in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals against Latrobe. Senior third baseman Olivia Lorusso, a Robert Morris recruit, hit a two-run single in the sixth inning to cap a four-run rally after the Big Macs trailed by three runs.
The timely hit from Lorusso, who leads Canon-McMillan with 15 home runs and 43 RBI, sent the Big Macs (18-3) into today’s championship game against Shaler (16-3) at California University’ Lilley Field with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Big Macs will attempt to win their third straight WPIAL championship, while the Titans are searching for their first title since 2005. No Class AAAA or AAA school has won three straight softball titles since Baldwin accomplished the feat for four straight years from 1993-96.
Canon-McMillan has been outhit by both of its opponents during the playoffs, but prevailed with wins over the Wildcats in the semifinals and North Allegheny in the quarterfinals.
“It was definitely a different route than we’ve gone all season,” Big Macs head coach Michele Moeller said. “Not many people have been able to outhit us. For that to happen for two games and us to still get two wins, I’ll take that as a good thing.”
Canon-McMillan’s win over Latrobe was its first one-run victory since its 6-5 win April 15 over Summerville, S.C. and only the second since the Big Macs defeated Neshaminy, 4-3, last June to win the PIAA Class AAAA Championship at Penn State.
“I think if you have a well-rounded team, you will win games and you shouldn’t always count on home runs,” Lorusso said. “Sometimes you have to battle back and it really showed our character these last couple games where we overcame deficits. We want to prove to people we don’t just rely on one aspect of the game. We can do it all.”
While three of Canon-McMillan’s top-four hitters in the batting order returned from last year’s state title team – Lorusso, junior center fielder Abby McCartney and sophomore shortstop Linda Rush – the Big Macs are not the same as a year ago.
Observer-Reporter Softball Player of the Year Alayna Astuto, the Big Macs’ pitcher last season, is gone and was replaced in the circle by junior Tara Fowler. Freshman left fielder Brittney Crawford stepped in as Canon-McMillan’s second hitter in the order and has thrived with a .382 average.
Although the core players return from a season ago, Moeller is done measuring this year’s team to the one that won the state title.
“We need to stop looking back to last year,” Moeller said. “It’s a different approach. Even though we have some of our main players back, the make-up is different. I definitely saw the energy and still saw the will to win in the Latrobe game and nobody gave up. It’s never going to be the same as it was last year, but I don’t even want to make those comparisons anymore.”
Shaler will surely treat Canon-McMillan as every other team in the WPIAL has this season – by placing a bulls-eye on the backs of the Big Macs. The Titans have scored double-digit runs five times this season, including a 10-0 victory over Bethel Park in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Shaler may be able to match Canon-McMillan’s offense, but it does lack experience.
The Titans did not advance past the quarterfinals a year ago and only have one senior on the roster. Moeller watched their game against the Black Hawks and expects Shaler’s offense to match the Big Macs’ fire power.
After watching Lorusso and McCartney light up the scoreboard this season with power to both sides of the field, Moeller had been pleased to see the duo focus lately on making solid contact rather than sending the ball over the outfield fence. If that does happen, the Big Macs’ coach will be pleased nonetheless.
“When Abby and Olivia get up, I’m not thinking singles – even though I like singles when they are timely,” Moeller said. “Usually, I am used to seeing them hit something big, but for them to just put the bat on the ball and put it where it needed to be, that’s a great thing to see. It put aside just going for the fence and they focused on getting a better pitch.”