BETHEL PARK — The Canon-McMillan High School baseball team has been in chase mode since the middle of April. And the Big Macs had yet to catch Bethel Park since the Black Hawks defeated them, 6-3, April 16 at Wild Things Park.
Going stride for stride with Canon-McMillan down the stretch – the Black Hawks had won eight straight games and the Big Macs were winners of five of their last six – Bethel Park refused to surrender the top spot in Class 6A Section 3.
When the teams met for the final time in the regular season Wednesday afternoon, it was a microcosm of the last three weeks — a game of chase for the Big Macs.
Bethel Park scored a pair of runs in the first inning, counter-punched two Canon-McMillan rallies and didn't surrender the lead the entire game to defeat the Big Macs, 9-4, at Bob Purkey Jr. Memorial Field to secure its third section title in the last seven years.
"I really think the win at Wild Things Park was the turning point of our season," said Bethel Park coach Tony Fisher. "That's when (our players) started to believe that they were good."
Though Bethel Park starts seven underclassmen, it was one of the senior captains that came up big for the Black Hawks. Adam Malecki went 4-for-4, scored three runs and had three RBI to win his second section title, the last being in 2016.
"Honestly, I'm just feeling it," Malecki said. "Some days you have it, some days you don't. I guess I just got a little lucky that today was one of those (good) days."
Malecki's hits came at the times Bethel Park (10-1, 12-3) needed them the most. After C-M trimmed its deficit to one run heading to the bottom half of the second and third innings, Malecki answered. He hit a bloop single down the right-field line in the second, then singled to left field the following inning. Both hits scored a run and widened the gap.
"We have really swung the bat well," Fisher said. "Guys are getting on base and others are having timely hits. It's about getting them on, getting them over and getting them in."
The Black Hawks' biggest response was a three-run third inning that gave them an 8-4 lead. They suffocated the Big Macs' bats with tremendous plays in the field.
"We barreled up some balls today, but they made play after play after play in the field," said C-M coach Tim Bruzdewicz. "That takes the life out of you offensively. You hit the ball hard and have nothing to show for."
The early runs for Bethel Park came from patience at the plate. In the first three innings, the Black Hawks forced C-M junior starting pitcher Cam Weston to throw strikes. They forced seven full counts and drew the same amount of walks, ending Weston's day after 2 2/3 innings and 93 pitches.
Eric Chalus, the Black Hawks freshman starter, calmed down after surrendering three runs in the third to Canon-McMillan (8-3, 11-5). He scattered eight hits, gave up four runs (two earned) and struck out five over six innings.
"We threw him to the wolves early in the season up at Pine-Richland," Fisher said. "He pitched well. That's when he realized he belonged. His composure has been awesome. Today, he stayed composed."
Canon-McMillan didn't threaten in the final four innings, sending only four batters to the plate three times and going down in order in the sixth.
"It's hard to win the section, and to be a part of two is fantastic," Malecki said. "We are a young team this year. You have to show them the opes and try to teach them to play the game right. But honestly, it's their energy that helps us out. We're not a bunch of special guys going to big colleges. We are just out here playing and loving the game."