C-M welcomes underdog status in state playoffs

June 1, 2014
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Eleanor Bailey / The Almanac
Canon-McMillan senior catcher Gia Zeremenko and assistant coach Steve Moskal stand on the field after the Big Macs fell in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game against Shaler.
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Eleanor Bailey / The Almanac
Canon-McMillan’s Gia Zeremenko, left, and Kenzie Jacobs, right, watch as Shaler accepts the WPIAL Class AAAA championship trophy. The Big Macs move on to the PIAA playoffs today against Dubois at Brockway.

Canon-McMillan finds itself in an unfamiliar position as it prepares for the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs.

The defending state champions will face the top-seeded team from District 9 when the second postseason starts today.

After falling to Shaler, 9-5, in the WPIAL Class AAAA title game, Canon-McMillan will be the underdog in the state playoffs for the first time in recent memory after winning back-to-back WPIAL championships in 2012 and 2013.

The Big Macs will continue their state title defense today against Dubois (17-3) at Brockway.

Entering the tournament as a darkhorse is a position head coach Michele Moeller welcomes.

“I never minded playing as an underdog,” Moeller said. “It’s much more difficult playing as a top team. I’d honestly prefer people don’t rank us, but I do think they will still rank us high because of past success.”

The Big Macs faltered against Shaler after fielding woes extended innings and gave their opponent extra outs. Canon-McMillan committed five errors in the game, but Moeller counted two additional mental mistakes that led to runs for the Titans.

Moeller’s team has now committed 47 errors in 22 games and is trying to avoid looking ahead with a potential rematch with Shaler if both teams advance past the first round.

Canon-McMillan enters the shadowy depths of the state playoffs where little information is available on opponents outside of the WPIAL. The little information Moeller has on the Beavers stems from the District 6 champions’ victory over Keystone to claim the title.

Any scouting report she does have on Dubois will only be shared with her coaching staff for decisions during the game. After mental mistakes ended the Big Macs’ bid for a third straight WPIAL title, Moeller wants the players to focus on their own play.

“The girls do have it in them to bounce back because they did it after losing to Baldwin this season,” Moeller said. “They definitely have the talent and there is a comfort knowing we have the ability to bounce back after a loss like that. They had higher expectations, but it’s in the past.”

Canon-McMillan was at a disadvantage entering the WPIAL title game with the inability to find a scrimmage. For whatever reason, no team wanted to face the Big Macs to prepare for a championship or consolation game.

Moeller finally found a willing opponent Saturday when Canon-McMillan scrimmaged Thomas Jefferson, the WPIAL Class AAA champions. With the urgency of cleaning up mistakes both in the field and at the plate, facing a tough opponent was a necessity.

“We figured a few things out at the scrimmage and I let the girls talk to (the coaches) about what they thought went wrong against Shaler,” Moeller said. “We told them that they still have a championship to go after.”

Another local team, Burgettstown, earned a spot in the PIAA Class A playoffs after defeating Jefferson-Morgan in the consolation game last week.

The Blue Devils (17-5), Section 1-A champions, faced three of the top four–seeded teams in the WPIAL Class A playoffs and will face District 6 champion, Southern Huntingdon (17-5), today at Penn State with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m.

Despite rolling through competition in Class A during the regular season, Burgettstown assumed the underdog role during the WPIAL playoffs before losing to top-seeded Neshannock in the semifinals. A tough loss to the Lancers led to a bounce back performance against Jeff-Morgan, as the Blue Devils scored seven runs on nine hits in the victory.

Deer, who is one of the longest tenured coaches in WPIAL softball, does not want his team to think about Southern Huntingdon’s talent or any type of scouting report.

“We have to worry about how we execute, how we pitch, what we do in the field,” Deer said. “We can’t worry about what the other team is going to do.”

Burgettstown has a balanced lineup that – one through nine – has the ability to damage opponents’ pitching. Also, sophomore pitcher Kate Tarr pitched admirably against Jeff-Morgan in the shutout victory. Both factors have Deer encouraged heading to State College.

“They know what is at stake,” Deer said. “They’re a young team and the good thing about this is that no matter what happens, they know they’ll be coming back again.”

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