South Xtra: This season's success just hint of future for Big Macs

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While on the long bus ride home from her team's 5-4 loss to Bishop Shanahan at Carlisle in the PIAA Class AAAA softball semifinals Monday evening, Canon-McMillan coach Michele Moeller politely requested to discuss the Big Macs' season by telephone the following morning.

"It'll let me sleep on it," Moeller said, at least in part wanting to "get over" the season-ending loss.

The next morning, Moeller had moved on partially, but allowed, "It still stings a little bit to come up short."

But the more Moeller discussed Canon-McMillan's remarkable WPIAL championship season -- almost without debate, the greatest in school history and only a couple years removed from some tough times for the Big Macs -- the more she began to show her true appreciation.

"I think as we all kind of sit down and look back and come together at the banquet and so forth, we'll have more time to reflect on all they achieved," Moeller said. "First, as far as the WPIAL championship goes and getting deep into the state playoffs, and also some of the hitting numbers and pitching numbers the girls earned as well."

And here's what might be the best part for Canon-McMillan: The team figures, on paper, to be even better next year. The Big Macs had only two seniors on the roster, and neither had softball as her primary sport. Although Tara Schram and Riley Piechnick filled valuable starting roles, neither was even a four-year softball player.

Canon-McMillan's dominant players were juniors, sophomores or freshmen.

"Obviously, we're real excited about that," Moeller said. "It'll be a different focus for them next year. This year they kind of weren't on top of rankings and ... obviously that's going to change. They have to learn not to read into that and just go play."

The Big Macs haven't had those kind of expectations for some time. And with good reason -- from 2008 to 2010, the Big Macs went a combined 7-44 and finished in last place in their section every season.

That makes this season's 18-6 record and Section 4-AAAA co-title -- to say nothing of the program's first WPIAL title game or PIAA playoff appearance -- the more remarkable.

"When you sit down and think about it, it was a great season overall," Moeller said. "I was talking to them on the bus [Monday] night, 'Even some of the things we've done together the whole season, when you look back it, you're probably not going to remember all the different [statistics] you had, but you'll remember the team winning the WPIAL and playing in the state playoffs and people turning out to watch and support them from the community and the school."

Junior pitcher Alayna Astuto went 16-5 with 160 strikeouts, a 1.45 ERA and a .175 opponents' batting average.

Arguably, the Big Macs' three most productive offensive players were a freshman and two sophomores. Freshman Abby McCartney played right field and hit .596 during the regular season with a .934 slugging percentage, 24 RBIs, five home runs, 12 doubles and 3 triples.

Sophomore catcher Giorgiana Zerremenko had team highs in average (.470) and RBIs (32) and was second in home runs (eight) and slugging percentage (.880). Sophomore third baseman Olivia Lorusso hit .333 with an .806 slugging percentage 27 RBIs and a team-high nine home runs.

Another sophomore who started, Allison Bellaire, was a defensive standout at second base.

Three juniors, shortstop Veronica Rothka (.329 average, 17 runs), first baseman Maddie Engel (.333 postseason average) and center fielder Yasmin Kotar (.312, 16 RBIs, team-best 13 steals), also formed a core of the lineup.

The seniors' contributed in the form of several clutch postseason hits from designated player Piechnick and 14 runs, 9 stolen bases and a .304 regular-season batting average from leadoff hitter and outfielder Schram.

"It hurts to lose a couple seniors, but we've got some kids who are coming up as well," Moeller said. "We're real pleased with how the younger players have approached getting better. They're already hungry for next year. They were talking about it on the bus."



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