Jun. 14—If it is an unwritten rule that teams that finish in third place in their section, four games behind the section champion, aren’t still playing in mid-June, then the exception to that rule is the 2021 Canon-McMillan softball team.
The Big Macs entered the district playoffs with a 7-9 overall record. But wins over No.3 seed Hempfield and No. 2 Norwin lifted Canon-McMillan into the WPIAL finals and guaranteed the Big Macs a spot in the PIAA playoffs.
“Besides it being the season after covid and trying to get into a normal rhythm again, it’s been unique in the sense that no one was really talking about us,” Canon-McMillan coach Michele Moeller said. “We knew we had talent. We just needed to put it together. I think the girls are at the point where they feel like they are playing more confidently. I’m so proud of them.”
Canon-McMillan prepared for the start of the PIAA postseason this past week, coming off a 9-2 loss to Bethel Park in the WPIAL 6A title game.
“First I would say disappointment,” Moeller said. “We did not play our best. Bethel is a really good team and we had to be on our game as players and coaches, and I felt we could have given them a better game than the score reflected. But they are a resilient bunch. We have faced some quality teams and pitching all year. We have faced losing and we’ve bounced back before so I knew they were capable of it.”
On Monday in the first round, the Big Macs faced District 6 champion Mifflin County.
Canon-McMillan jumped out to a 3-0 lead with a run in the first inning and two more in the second.
“Obviously, any time you take an early lead it allows you to play with a little more confidence,” Moeller said.
After the Huskies chipped away and tied the score after five innings, The Big Macs plated two runs each in the sixth and seventh innings to secure a win, 7-4.
“I think you just really have to hand it to our players,” Moeller said. “I had seen a video of their pitcher. We prepared for what we expected and the kids executed. It was key that we had hits throughout the lineup which we’ve struggled with at times this season. We also had key hits from kids coming in off the bench.”
That set up a 6A state quarterfinals game Thursday against District 1 runner-up Neshaminy.
It was a close game in which Canon-McMillan tied the game three times and never led until Abby Allen hit a walk-off, two-run home run for a 5-3 victory.
“It was a laser shot over the left field fence,” Moeller said. “Abby really was struggling throughout the game. Abby is a great young lady. She’s hit two dingers in key situations for us throughout these playoff runs. I actually said to her in jest after that game that I was glad she finally found her bat. She was seeing the ball much better the last two at-bats as evidenced by a walk prior and the pitches she was able to foul off before the home run.”
The dramatic victory for the Big Macs not only lifts the team into the state semifinals, it also improved their record to 11-10, only the second time this season the tam has been over .500 and the first time since they were 7-6.
“To be in the top four in the state is quite an achievement,” Moeller said. “Those District 1 teams are always strong and to knock off the No. 2 seed from there says something about this group of players.”
Canon-McMillan is the only 6A softball team remaining in the final four that is not from District 1.
On Monday, Canon-McMillan faces North Penn, another tough task for Moeller’s band of Big Macs.
“They have strong pitching, hitting and a veteran coaching staff,” she said. “We’ll be the underdogs again I’m sure. We just have to keep the momentum going.”
2021 Trib HSSN Softball Teams of the Week:
Week 10 — West Greene Pioneers
Week 9 — Beaver Bobcats
Week 8 — Ellwood City Wolverines
Week 7 — Armstrong River Hawks
Week 6 — Laurel Spartans
Week 5 — Avonworth Antelopes
Week 4 — Montour Spartans
Week 3 — Central Valley Warriors
Week 2 — North Hills Indians
Week 1 — Norwin Knights