Thursday night marked Canon-McMillan's first appearance in the WPIAL softball championship game, and the Big Macs made sure they didn't come away empty-handed.
Canon-McMillan beat Hempfield, 4-1, in the Class AAAA title game at California University for the school's first WPIAL crown.
"It's awesome," Big Macs coach Michelle Moeller said. "It's a great feeling. Setting out early in the season, we knew we were capable of it."
Alayna Astuto pitched a complete game for Canon-McMillan (16-5), allowing three hits and just the one run. She struck out only one Hempfield batter, but tricked the Spartans batters into easy popups and groundouts.
"I was living with my curveball because that was moving the best," Astuto said. "They were popping it up."
The Big Macs scored all four of their runs in the fourth inning.
The first came on an RBI double from right fielder Abby McCartney, and the rest were courtesy of a three-run home run by third baseman Olivia Lorusso.
Karilynn Null was perfect through three innings on the mound for the Spartans (18-5), but ran into trouble in the bottom of the fourth.
After back-to-back singles by Tara Schram and Veronica Rothka to lead off the inning, the next two batters hit into fielder's choices to set up McCartney's double.
Lorusso came up with runners on second and third. On an 0-2 count, she waited patiently on Null's changeup -- the same pitch she struck out in her first at-bat -- and crushed it over the left field wall.
"The ball was coming in and I was thinking, 'My coach wants me to wait on it, I'm going to wait on it,' and I just swung," Lorusso said.
Moeller said she told all her hitters to move back in the box after the third inning to counteract Null's effective fastball.
That fourth inning was all the offense Astuto and the Canon-McMillan defense needed.
The junior allowed just one hit after the third inning. Hempfield's only run was scored with two outs in the seventh inning.
"It's the defense behind her," Moeller said. "When she believes in those people behind her and she just lets them play their game, she's even more effective. You don't have to strike out all the batters anymore."
Astuto had to pitch out of trouble early in the game, when she left the bases loaded. After a single and a walk, she induced a fly out with two outs to end the threat and keep the game scoreless.
"That's definitely big," Hempfield coach Bob Kalp said. "If we get a base hit at the end there and score two runs, the nature of the ballgame changes immensely.
"But we didn't get it, so that's the way it is."
Astuto said that second inning gave her "10 times more confidence on the mound."
Astuto and the Big Macs had beaten Hempfield, 1-0, earlier in the season.
She had 10 strikeouts in that game.
Both teams advanced to the PIAA tournament starting next week.
Hempfield will play a team from District 6 or District 9, and Canon-McMillan will face a squad from District 8 or District 10.
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.