Canon-McMillan advances past Norwin to reach WPIAL Class 6A softball final in a pinch

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021 | 7:38 PM


About a month ago, Taylor Eckles wasn’t sure if she would be able to join her teammates in the WPIAL playoffs.

A torn tendon in her knee forced her to the sidelines, and she sat softball dormant for six weeks.

The Canon-McMillan junior made her return to game action in Wednesday’s Class 6A semifinal, and coach Michele Moeller picked the perfect time to use her as a pinch-hitter.

With the sixth-seeded Big Macs tied with No. 2 Norwin in the top of the seventh — two outs, bases loaded — Eckles delivered, ripping a three-run double to carry her team to a 7-4 victory at West Mifflin.

It was actually her second pinch-hit at-bat of the game.

“I was really anxious to get back because I have been putting in a lot of work,” Eckles said. “I was just glad I was able to contribute. It was the biggest pressure situation I have ever been in.”

The Big Macs (9-9) advanced to the title game to take on No. 1 Bethel Park (17-0) on June 2 or 3 at Cal (Pa.). Bethel Park beat Pine-Richland in the other semifinal, 9-0.

Canon-McMillan won WPIAL titles in 2012 and ’13, and they were runners-up in ’14, their last finals appearance.

“We wanted to get Taylor in the lineup,” Moeller said. “I had held off pinch-hitting her earlier but knew we could use her in that situation. She came through. It scripted out well.”

Norwin (14-3) is the second on what is becoming a trail of upsets for Canon-McMillan. It also knocked out No. 3 Hempfield, the five-time defending champs in the largest classification.

The Knights’ season suddenly is over because the WPIAL only sends its 6A finalists to the state tournament. They have lost three straight semifinals and will have to wait to make their first appearance in the finals.

Norwin came in with seven straight wins.

“Our girls kept plugging away and fighting,” Moeller said. “We’re so happy to be back (in the finals). We thought this could be the group to do it.”

Eckles’ deep drive carried over the head of Norwin junior center fielder Olivia Mastrilli, who made a diving lunge at the ball before crashing into the fence. She was all right, but the damage was done and the Knights went quietly in the seventh despite a double by Mastrilli, who had made a diving grab two batters before her collision.

Canon-McMillan may have faced adversity, but it never trailed.

Norwin had to rally twice but could not do so a third time, even after pulling even at 4-4 on a two-run single by senior Liz Waszkiewicz in the sixth.

The Knights also came back from an early 2-0 deficit, tying the Big Macs in the third on towering solo home runs to left by senior Bailee Bertani and sophomore Madie Kessler.

“We got in a hole, came back; got in a hole, came back,” Norwin coach Brian Mesich said. “(Canon-McMillan) hit the ball exactly when they needed to hit the ball. We have a resilient group. This is only our third loss, so it hurts.”

Mesich was not surprised to see Mastrilli put her body on the line in the seventh.

“We say she is military strong,” he said. “She is ROTC.”

Two Norwin errors gave the Big Macs two runs in the first. But they didn’t score again until the fifth when senior Abby Allen cracked a two-run homer to deep center off of Norwin senior pitcher Sydney Lokay to make it 4-2.

“Huge hit,” Moeller said.

Norwin had to adjust to seeing a pair of left-handed pitchers. Canon-McMillan started senior Lauren Duke, who went five innings before giving way to junior Brooke Perri.

“I don’t like the third looks,” Moeller said of Norwin facing the same pitcher a third time through the order. “We were hoping (Norwin) didn’t see too much left-handed pitching. They have a tough lineup. There is a reason they’re here.”

Still, Norwin out-hit the Big Macs, 11-8.

The Knights negotiated a bases-loaded jam in the sixth, thanks to a pair of defensive gems. Mastrilli tracked down a deep drive by Eckles, and senior second baseman Mia Harrison snared a liner off the bat of senior Olivia Ulam.

After Waszkiewicz’s two-run hit, the Big Macs intentionally walked Kessler to load the bases, but Perri got junior Angelina Pepe to pop out.

Kessler went 3 for 3 and Mastrilli had two hits.

Senior Elika Mowery had two for Canon-McMillan.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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