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Canon-McMillan advances to title game on walk-off single

| Thursday, May 24, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

Giorgianna Zeremenko lived a dream ... well, almost.

With two on, two out and the count full in the bottom of the seventh inning, Canon-McMillan's sophomore catcher smacked a walk-off single to right to lift the No. 5 Big Macs over top-seeded Shaler, 4-3, in a WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal Thursday at Fairhaven Park in Kennedy.

The victory sends Canon-McMillan (15-5) to the WPIAL title game for the first time, where it will meet No. 2 Hempfield (18-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday at California (Pa.).

School history was on the line when Zeremenko came to the plate in the final inning. It's a situation many might dream about, and Zeremenko said she did the night before, albeit with one alteration.

“In my dream, it was a home run,” Zeremenko said. “But that's OK. This works, too.”

Morgan Russo hit two solo home runs for Shaler (19-3), and Lauren Hackett's solo shot to center off Alayna Astuto in the top of the sixth tied the game, 3-3.

Heading into the bottom of the seventh, Shaler pitcher Sydney Smyers had retired nine straight batters and made it 10 when Tara Fowler grounded out for the first out.

Tara Schram, Canon-McMillan's No. 9 hitter, then hit a bloop single, and Maddie Engle had two-out single. That put runners on first and third for Zeremenko, who had hit three home runs in the Big Macs' previous two playoff wins but was hitless in her first three plate appearances yesterday.

Nonetheless, Zeremenko's liner to right field brought Schram home, and the Canon-McMillan dugout erupted in cheers.

“No Canon-Mac softball team has been to the WPIAL championship or even made states, so this is for the record books for them,” Canon-McMillan coach Michelle Moeller said. “I'm real proud of these guys and what they were able to do, and to do it in that fashion at the end, that says a lot about their tenacity, as well.”

Shaler, meanwhile, lost in the semifinals for the second straight season, perhaps with some extra emotion this year. Shaler coach Skip Palmer's wife, Judy, passed away last weekend after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, in March.

“These kids are unbelievable. They have been my strength through this whole thing,” Palmer said. “These kids would never give up, ever. We just never really hit the ball. We only had four or five hits, that was it. You're not going to win a lot of games with four or five hits, and today, they were better than us.”

Smyers yielded nine hits to Canon-McMillan, the longest of which capped a three-run third. After Engel scored on a bobbled grounder to short, Olivia Lorusso hit a two-run homer.

The Big Macs' offense wasn't as potent in their 1-0 win over Hempfield early in the year, but Moeller expects better in the rematch.

“Hempfield's a quality team,” Moeller said. “We got better hitting. They got better hitting. Everybody has upped their game as you go through this, so it's going to be a quality matchup.”

Pat Mitsch is a freelance writer.

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