South/North Xtra: Shaler stands in the way of Canon-McMillan 'three-peat'

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The Class AAAA softball seeds held true as No. 1 Canon-McMillan (18-3) and No. 2 Shaler Area (16-3) will battle for the WPIAL title at 7 p.m. today at Lilley Field on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania.

Storylines are running wild with this much anticipated matchup but none bigger than the feat the Big Macs are looking to accomplish.

Since the inception of softball playoffs, there has never been a team to win three consecutive WPIAL championships but with a win tonight, that is exactly what Canon-Mac will do. The Big Macs won the title in 2012 and '13 and are the defending PIAA champions as well.

"At the beginning of the season we knew it would be an uphill climb with the players we lost and with a target on our back," Canon-Mac coach Michele Moeller said. "We just want to improve every moment we are on the field and want to enjoy it because it is a fun game to play.

"We have been doing this for a long time -- for about 13 years -- my assistant coaches and I. We remember the dark days. To do something any Quad-A team hasn't done is pretty special. They are excited about it. The goal at the beginning of the season is to win the WPIAL. To be there three times is pretty unique."

Players have come and gone through the years, but none have been more noteworthy than the current upperclassmen for Canon-Mac.

"I credit a lot of it to my junior and senior classes," Moeller said. "They are the most decorated classes we have had. They have added so much to this program to take it to the next level. It is a different feel from year to year.

"We've never been in this position. It is a unique position. They still have it in their hearts to want to win. I can feel it in the whole community and school district."

The Big Macs were four outs away from not making it to this point if it weren't for a furious two-out rally in the semifinals against Greater Latrobe. They scored four runs with two outs in the sixth inning to complete a 7-6, come-from-behind win.

"I have to hand it to Latrobe," Moeller said. "They played a great game and they really took it to us. We hear about being a favorite and that maybe you will get knocked out. Going into that, we were just trying to stay positive and not panic. We were down but we scored runs before."

Heading into the season it wasn't the offense that was the problem. Moeller knew that junior Tara Fowler had big shoes to fill in the circle but she has been nothing but spectacular in her first full year as a starting pitcher.

"We didn't know how it was going to go in the pitching circle," Moeller said. "We had a new pitcher coming in as a junior but not a lot of experience at this level. She needed time to mature at that position and feel comfortable with the players around her."

It isn't going to be a walk in the park to a "three-peat" for the Big Macs. Shaler has witnessed plenty of success in its recent history, including winning two PIAA titles under coach Skip Palmer.

"Every time I've been to states we were always second," Palmer said. "I won it in 2004 as an assistant and 2006 as a head coach. We have been in the WPIAL championship six years."

Although winning their first WPIAL title under Palmer would be uplifting, it is the state title that the Titans really want and are expecting a good game against the Big Macs to get to that point.

"Anytime you win, it is better than losing," Palmer said. "Our goal is to have the [PIAA] trophy, if I had to pick one. We are still on track for our goal. The opponent is very, very good and it will be a good game."

The Titans had a less dramatic road to the title game with a 10-0 win against Bethel Park and 4-1 victory against Penn-Trafford.

Responsible for both of those wins and 16 overall on the season is Titans pitcher Brianna Dobson.

"She has matured so well," Palmer said. "Last year we threw her out there as a freshman. She is starting to learn how to be a pitcher this year. She is only going to get better. I couldn't have asked for anything more out of her.

"She relies on both speed and movement but is better at movement. She has great location."

In the past four years, the Big Macs and Titans are 1-1 in head-to-head matchups in the playoffs.

The Titans beat the Big Macs in the 2011 quarterfinals with the Big Macs returning the favor the next year in the semifinals.


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