The Canon-McMillan High School baseball team has been forced to take the one-game-at-a-time approach.
It’s difficult to look ahead with a full schedule of playing, practicing and studying the next opponent.
But don’t think that eight wins – what it would take to win both WPIAL and PIAA championships – has ever escaped the minds of the Big Macs.
“We just kept on preaching eight wins since the beginning of the (WPIAL) playoffs,” said senior Zach Rohaley. “The past couple of years we’ve had pretty good teams but one inning doesn’t go our way. We have momentum right now. This team is different.”
The eighth and final of those victories will have to come against District 1 champion Bensalem at 3:30 p.m. today in the PIAA Class 6A championship game at Penn State’s Medlar Field.
“I’m not a guy who thinks ahead at all,” said C-M coach Tim Bruzdewicz. “We have just been going one game at a time and not looking forward.”
That’s a good idea given the troubles WPIAL champions in the largest classification had advancing in the PIAA tournament.
Canon-McMillan (20-5) is the first WPIAL champion in the largest classification to make the state final since Shaler in 1999. The Big Macs’ victory over Spring-Ford in the 2008 PIAA championship was the last time a team from the WPIAL won in the largest classification. Teams from District 1 have won seven of the last nine championships. In the two other years, La Salle College High School, who Bensalem upset 5-4 in an extra-inning semifinal game Tuesday, won the title representing District 12.
“Obviously, there is a lot of talent, especially in Districts 1 and 12,” Bruzdewicz said. “I think a lot of eastern schools have that inner toughness. But that’s one of the things our team has, too.”
None of that dominance has been by Bensalem (23-3).
The Fighting Owls, located 15 miles northeast of Philadelphia, won their first district championship and have never played in a state final. They defeated Parkland 1-0 in the first round and topped Williamsport 6-0 in the quarterfinals. La Salle, coached by former Washington Wild Things second baseman Kyle Werman, stranded the bases loaded in the eighth inning against Bensalem as a flyout ended the game. Werman played for the Wild Things in 2006 and 2007.
Bensalem has leaned on its strong, deep pitching staff, including ace Stephen Aldrich, to 10 straight wins. It hasn’t lost a game since May 10. The other starting pitchers for the Owls are righthanders Nick Dean and Dom Grady and lefty Nick Fossile. The three losses have come by a combined seven runs.
Rohaley will start for the Big Macs in search of his 14th victory of the season and sixth of the postseason.
“(He) has the power to shake me off (on pitch calls),” Bruzdewicz said about Rohaley after the 4-1 win over Council Rock North in the semifinals Tuesday.
“We trusted the scouting report because it was from a guy I personally know. (Rohaley) knew we were going to throw backwards and then finish with sliders, curveballs and changeups. It’s hard to do. There aren’t many high school pitchers that I’ve see who can do that.”
The Big Macs have also had timely offense throughout the playoffs. Connor Flaherty hit a walk-off single in a 2-1 opening-round win over Dallastown. They jumped on North Allegheny with a four-run first inning in the quarterfinals, then rallied with a pair of runs in the third and fourth inning in Tuesday’s victory.
“It has started with our focus,” Bruzdewicz said. “We have really amped up our video watching. But it’s definitely a hard journey. As far as the history of it, and who has done what in the past, we haven’t talked to our kids about that. This is our own journey. This is our own team. We just have to take care of business.”