Injuries haven't derailed defending champ Canon-McMillan
After winning the WPIAL Class AAAA championship last season, the Canon-McMillan softball team set a standard.
The top-ranked Big Macs have lost three key players to injuries of varying degrees — but they keep winning at a pace that would make Mike Tomlin proud.
Despite losing shortstop Veronica Rothka, catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko and infielder/catcher Abby McCartney, Canon-McMillan is 11-1 overall and 10-0 in Section 4-AAAA heading into a scheduled game Thursday at Bethel Park.
“It's just been everyone stepping up,” pitcher Alayna Astuto said. “It's a different person every game. If we know someone's down, we know we'll make up for it, making extra effort. We've had a lot of people do their part in the place of some pretty good players: It's been a total team effort.”
Rothka was a starter since her freshman year but was lost for the season with a knee injury. Zeremenko has yet to play this season because of an upper-body injury — although coach Michelle Moeller said she is expected to return before the end of the season.
McCartney was injured when she was hit by a pitch during Monday's 2-0 win over Mt. Lebanon.
Moeller said X-rays were negative, and she was hopeful McCartney would not miss too much time.
Either way, these Big Macs have persevered and kept their place among the WPIAL elite. Canon-McMillan has the best overall record and best section record among Class AAAA teams.
“I'm really proud of the way they've stepped up in the face of a lot of different adverse situations since the beginning of the season,” Moeller said.
Then again, similar to the adage, “Momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher,” a team's ability to overcome adversity is made much easier when it has strong pitching.
Canon-McMillan is blessed with not one but two strong arms.
Senior Kayla Kiger has been starting games at pitcher for the Big Macs since she was a freshman, and Astuto was the primary pitcher for the WPIAL championship team last season.
Each has contributed on the mound for a team that has allowed a total of 11 runs in the 11 games it has won.
“Having both of them, I've been so spoiled,” Moeller said. “That's two senior pitchers who have been such good role models. They both get great grades, and they work together so well. They've been working together since they were young. I can't say enough about either one of them. They've meant so much to the team.”
Astuto will play at Waynesburg University next season while majoring in nursing. She had a 1.05 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 53 innings through Monday's game, Moeller said. Astuto largely relies on the natural movement on her pitches.
“I've had to work on some of my pitches, but for some of them the movement has come naturally since I was younger,” Astuto said.
First baseman Maddie Engel and infielder Linda Rush are other four-year starters in the Big Macs' lineup, and juniors Ally Bellaire and Olivia Lorusso are three-year starters.
“With the experience this group has, the chemistry is definitely there,” Moeller said. “It's a good group of kids that gets along well together. (Monday's) game, when they took Abby out to get X-rays, the older ones were saying to the younger kids who didn't have the same experience, ‘Just take care of what you're supposed to take care of.'
“With experience comes leadership — and that's why this team can overcome anything.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.