UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Canon-McMillan senior pitcher Alayna Astuto gave her team all it could ask for in the PIAA championship -- seven innings of no-run, no-hit softball.
When even that wasn't enough to lead the Big Macs past District 1 Neshaminy for the PIAA Class AAAA title at first, Astuto kept the no-hitter alive through the eighth. Then she did it again in the ninth.
When the game went to the 10th inning with the score still tied, 0-0, the international tiebreaker went into effect, starting each team with a runner on second. Astuto's shutout and no-hitter were broken up in the 10th as each team scored a run.
That scenario repeated in the 11th before Canon-McMillan freshman Linda Rush clobbered a two-run home run to left-center field in the top of the 12th, and with the insurance, Astuto was at last able to lock down the championship with a 4-3 victory at Nittany Lion Softball Park.
"You couldn't ask for a better game," Astuto said. "Someone said something to me [about the no-hitter] in the seventh inning, and I was like, 'Don't say anything!' ... It was hard, but you just have to keep strong. You train a lot and you just have to keep pushing and it obviously paid off."
Astuto, who will play for Waynesburg University next year, said taking a no-hitter into the 10th was the longest she has ever had one. She finished with 18 strikeouts, 4 hits, 1 walk and 3 hit batters in 12 innings.
"I could tell, every time she walked out, she took a deep, cleansing breath and just cleared her head, and that comes from experience," Big Macs coach Michele Moeller said of Astuto.
"When she was younger, she didn't do that stuff. ... One of the parents [of a younger pitcher] said to me they watched her and saw how calmly she walks back, takes a deep breath and doesn't rush into the pitch.
"Our younger kids learned from watching."
The teams traded runs in the 10th and 11th, but Rush's home run finally gave Canon-McMillan the separation it needed.
"I was thinking 'I need to hit this, I need to get the ball in play,' and thank God I did," Rush said, laughing.
But after the ball left the bat, "Yeah, I knew it," she added. "It was hot and stressful. ... Anxiety, that's all I can say. Crazy."
Neshaminy pitcher Lauren Quense was superb as well, allowing two hits through the seventh inning and five total while striking out 10 and yielding only an intentional walk.
Neshaminy almost won in the bottom of the 10th but was stymied on a great defensive play by Big Macs third baseman Olivia Lorusso. Trying a squeeze play to win it, Anna Luff laid down a good bunt but Lorusso charged hard and was able to get the ball to catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko in time for the tag.
In the bottom of the 12th, Neshaminy nearly responded with a two-run home run, but Jen Walker's drive hit just below the 200-foot sign on the top of the left-field wall.
"My heart dropped [on Rush's home run] and I was like, 'Please go over,' " Astuto said. "[Walker's] looked pretty close. I was hoping it went foul but at least it hit."
Relieved, Astuto got a strikeout and pop up to close out the win.
After the game, Rush couldn't believe she hit the winning home run in the PIAA championship. Just a freshman, how can she top that the rest of her career?
"I don't know if I can," Rush admitted. "Maybe next year."
Nick Veronica: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @NickVeronica. First Published June 15, 2013 4:00 AM