BROCKWAY – The defensive gremlins that haunted the Canon-McMillan High School softball team this season popped up again Monday at some of the worst times.
As a result, there will be a new PIAA Class AAAA champion.
Defending state champion Canon-McMillan committed five errors that led to three unearned runs, and DuBois’ Cheyenne McKee smacked a two-run single up the middle with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Beavers a 5-4 victory over the Big Macs in the first round of the state playoffs at Brockway High School.
It was the first PIAA playoff victory in DuBois history and gut-wrenching defeat for Canon-McMillan (18-5), which had taken a two-run lead by scoring four runs in the sixth inning.
Ultimately, defensive miscues were C-M’s undoing. DuBois (18-3) scored two unearned runs without the benefit of a hit in the second inning, and the Beavers’ seventh-inning comeback started with a C-M error.
“Offense can get your there, but defense wins championships. That part we know,” Canon-McMillan coach Michele Moeller said. “We extended a couple of innings with errors.”
Canon-McMillan trailed 2-0 in the sixth, when a light rain began to fall. The Big Macs’ Abby McCartney and Olivia Lorusso then provided the thunder and lightning. Two thunderous and lightning-quick swings produced back-to-back home runs and suddenly C-M had a 4-2 lead.
McCartney’s homer, a long drive to straightaway center field, came on a 1-2 pitch with two outs and scored Jada Kemp and Brittney Crawford. The bomb gave C-M a 3-2 lead and a much-needed spark.
Lorusso followed with a home run to left field and suddenly the Big Macs had gone from being a lifeless team to one leading 4-2 and having all the momentum.
“We hit some long balls and our pitcher did everything that we asked her to do, but we just made too many mistakes,” Moeller said.
The back-to-back homers quieted a large pro-DuBois crowd, but Beavers coach Rick McClelland said he knew his team wasn’t ready to fold.
“After the back-to-back homers, I went to the circle and could see on everybody’s face that they weren’t going to give up,” McClelland said. “They could have put their heads down and let those home runs rattle them, but they didn’t. They knew they weren’t done.”
DuBois pulled to within 4-3 with what proved to be an important run in the bottom of the sixth. Sierra McKee laced a one-out double into the left-field corner – the Beavers’ first hit of the game – and ended up at third base when the ball was misplayed in the outfield. McKee scored when Regan Hanna reached on an infield single.
The Big Macs lost a potential run in the top of the seventh. Ally Bellaire led off with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Amanda Stranges, who advanced to third on Fowler’s sacrifice bunt and a throwing error on Taylor Bruno’s grounder. Kemp then had what looked like a bunt hit, but she was called out for stepping on home plate while putting the ball in play. Stranges returned to third base and a fly out ended the threat.
DuBois started the bottom of the seventh with Rachelle Kruzelak hitting a grounder up the middle that deflected off Fowler’s glove to Linda Rush at shortstop. Rush’s throw was in time to retire Kruzelak, but first baseman Kenzie Jacobs, who had prevented three throwing errors early in the game by scooping balls out of the dirt, dropped the low throw for the Big Macs’ fifth error.
Henry followed with a single, and Kruzelak moved to third base when pinch-hitter Kaitlyn Bender flied out. Henry stole second base before McKee singled solidly up the middle. Kruzelak scored to make it 4-4 and Henry never stopped running around third base, beating the tag at home plate by C-M catcher Georgianna Zeremenko. The throw from McCartney in center field was to the first-base side of the plate, causing Zeremenko to make a lunging tag attempt.
DuBois took a 2-0 lead in the third inning, taking advantage of a two walks and three C-M throwing errors. Two of the errors.
“As much as we knew we would need more defensive reps this year than last year, we didn’t get them because of the weather,” Moeller said. “But other teams didn’t get them, either. We just made too many mistakes in that (second) inning.
Fowler allowed only four hits, each coming in the final two innings. Henry threw a five-hitter and did not walk a batter.
“That was a heck of a team that we beat,” McClelland said. “We looked at their statistics and saw how many home runs they hit. We knew Henry would have to hit her spots.”