Canon-McMillan will attempt to become the first back-to-back WPIAL Class AAAA softball champion tonight since Greater Latrobe pulled off the feat in 2007 and '08.
Standing in the Big Macs way is North Allegheny, a program in the WPIAL final for the first time since 2006.
No. 1-seeded Canon-McMillan (20-1) and No. 3-seeded North Allegheny (17-4) will meet in the WPIAL Class AAAA final at 7 p.m. today at California University of Pennsylvania.
The Big Macs boast one of the most dangerous lineups in the WPIAL with an ability to score runs in droves. But in the WPIAL semifinals, it was the pitching of senior Alayna Astuto that was the difference.
Astuto fired a perfect game as Canon-McMillan avenged its only loss of the season with a 5-0 win against Hempfield Area. Astuto did not pitch in the regular-season meeting against Hempfield.
Astuto is 19-0 this season with 104 strikeouts in 105 innings. She has a 1.33 ERA and opponents are batting an anemic .157 against her.
North Allegheny will counter with junior Sami Beining. The Tigers have utilized two pitchers this season, Beining and her younger sister, freshman Madi Beining, but the older sibling will get the call tonight.
Sami Beining tossed a complete game in a 7-4 WPIAL semifinal win against Peters Township, her 10th of the season.
"We bring good pitching, whether it is Sami or Madi. We can compete in the pitching category," North Allegheny coach Rick Meister said.
North Allegheny has a balanced lineup that can produce from top to bottom. In the WPIAL semifinals the Tigers scored their seven runs on 12 hits with the bottom of the lineup helping jump-start a five-run sixth inning that proved to be the difference.
"I like to think we are a very balanced team," Meister said. "We bring good pitching and we are a team that can hit the ball. In our semifinal game it was the bottom three who ignited the rally that put us over the top."
Both Canon-McMillan and North Allegheny received first-round byes in the 13-team tournament.
One coach who has a unique perspective on the matchup is Ambridge's Jim Huwar. Ambridge played both teams in late-season non-section games. The championship matchup hardly surprised Huwar.
"Both of those teams are good hitting teams," Huwar said. "Both have a lot of players who are quality -- it should be a quality matchup. I thought both of those teams would make it to the championship."
North Allegheny has three WPIAL championships, back-to-back Class AAA titles in 2002 and '03 before there were four classifications in the WPIAL, and a Class AAAA title in 2006.
Canon-McMillan's championship last May was the first in program history.
"North Allegheny has speed and is athletic in its lineup," said Canon-McMillan coach Michelle Moeller, a former standout at Baldwin High School. "I know years ago when we played them, they were always well coached. I am sure that is still the same."
The Big Macs have shut out both of their postseason opponents, Penn-Trafford and Hempfield, while North Allegheny has scored seven runs in each of its two postseason wins against McKeesport Area and Peters Township.
With North Allegheny's balanced lineup and the big bats in the Canon-McMillan lineup, there is potential for a high-scoring game.
In the WPIAL semifinals, Canon-McMillan had 10 hits. Freshman shortstop Linda Rush was 3 for 3 while junior catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko had three RBIs and junior third baseman Olivia Lorusso had two RBIs.
The Big Macs have three players batting .500 or better, Rush (.543), sophomore right fielder Abby McCartney (.532) and Zeremenko (.500). Lorusso (.443) and sophomore left fielder Tara Fowler (.406) are batting better than .400.
"When I look through our lineup, top to bottom, we are stronger than we were last year," Moeller said. "The confidence that each year brings for some of these players plays a huge role as well.
"I feel we are stronger than we were last year but if it was just based on lineup versus lineup, I guess we wouldn't have to play the game.
"The playoffs are unique -- everyone brings their 'A' game. It is a lot tighter than it normally is. I expect it is going to be a tough one against NA."
First Published May 30, 2013 4:00 AM