If Las Vegas had released odds on who would win the WPIAL Class AAAA Section 5 baseball title this season, Canon-McMillan might have been a 100-to-1 longshot, an underdog to the fullest extent of the word.
But the Big Macs have proved that every dog has its day, or in this case, season.
There are turnaround seasons and then there is what Canon-McMillan has done this spring. No WPIAL team has experienced such a reversal of fortune. A season ago, the Big Macs were tied for last in their section. This season, they're section champions. No other WPIAL team has experienced that type of transformation this season.
"You can't make this stuff up," fifth-year coach Frank Zebrasky said. "To see it happen is pretty powerful."
It's borderline unbelievable, actually, especially considering Canon-McMillan has done it in what is annually one of the most talented sections in the WPIAL. But after going 2-10 in section play a year ago, the Big Macs went 8-2 this year, giving them a better record than perennial heavyweights such as Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon and Peters Township.
"In our section it's mind-boggling because there are some really good pitchers," Zebrasky said. "It's been a pretty magical ride."
Last season likely seems an eternity ago to this Canon-McMillan team, which was 11-6 overall prior to yesterday's scheduled non-section game against Hempfield Area, its regular-season finale.
Canon-McMillan dealt with several key injuries a season ago, including the loss of standout pitcher Matt Douglas, who missed his entire senior season with a torn ACL. The Big Macs were competitive in a lot of games, but that didn't translate into many wins. They finished 4-15, dropping nine of their final 10 games.
"We had a bunch of first-year varsity kids, and a lot of kids had to grow up quickly," Zebrasky said. "It started the maturation process, with us taking our lumps."
Zebrasky said his team began to turn the corner during a successful American Legion season last summer. That momentum carried over to the fall league, when Canon-McMillan continued to play outstanding ball.
The Big Macs showed a lot of maturity in the early stages of this season. They lost four of their first five games, but countered with a three-game winning streak that helped them start 2-0 in section play.
The Big Macs then suffered their only two section setbacks, losing to Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park. Heading into this week, the Big Macs had not lost since, boasting a seven-game winning streak.
"It's been a collective effort. Everyone has been doing their share," said Zebrasky.
Canon-McMillan strung together three excellent wins last week, helping the Big Macs earn a WPIAL playoff berth and a section championship. The Big Macs had not done either since winning the PIAA title in 2008. The Big Macs defeated Mt. Lebanon, 7-6, Bethel Park, 15-4, and Peters Township, 14-11.
Junior second baseman Zach Pollack hit the winning sacrifice fly in the seventh to beat Mt. Lebanon.
Senior outfielder Brandon Kildare had a home run and four RBIs against Bethel Park.
Senior third baseman Frank Fortunato and junior catcher Buzz Boggio each had two-run doubles in a 10-run first inning against Peters Township, a win which gave Canon-McMillan the outright section title.
Canon-McMillan's two captains -- Fortunato and senior pitcher Kevin Forrester -- are most definitely leading by example. Going into this week, Fortunato was batting a team-best .491 with a .647 on-base percentage and 19 RBIs. Forrester leads the Big Macs with six wins and is batting .346.
Among Canon-McMillan's other top hitters are Kildare (.434), senior first baseman Justin Davey (.400 and a team-high 21 RBIs) and sophomore Jared Beach (.348 with 15 RBIs).
Senior pitcher John Ross sports a 3-1 record and is one of the key members of what is a deep pitching staff.
None of these Canon-McMillan players have ever played in a WPIAL playoff game, but that will change next week.
Said Zebrasky: "We're very excited because one of the goals we had was to get into the playoffs. One of the goals we had was to attempt to win a section championship. It's something special and it's very deserving."