CALIFORNIA – Sandra Soltes’ bat got in the way of what could have been a good time for Canon-McMillan’s softball team.

Soltes, the junior catcher for Bethel Park, had a landmark game Thursday, hitting two homers, including a first-inning grand slam, and driving in eight runs as the top-seeded and undefeated Black Hawks won their first WPIAL softball title, defeating Canon-McMillan 9-2 in the Class 6A championship game at California University’s soggy Lilley Field.

“Soltes killed us,” said Canon-McMillan coach Michele Moeller in what might have been the understatement of the season. “Everybody talks about Norwin’s hitting, but Bethel Park is a really good hitting team, and we did a good job against them, except for Soltes.”

Soltes, a Pitt recruit, went 3-for-4 and scored three runs. She hit a grand slam in the first inning to give Bethel Park (18-0) a 4-0 lead. After Canon-McMillan cut the Black Hawks’ advantage to 4-2, Soltes delivered a two-run single in a three-run fifth and sealed the victory with a two-run homer in the sixth.

“She was a powerhouse,” said Bethel Park coach Heather Scott. “She went in with a great attitude and crushed it ... twice.”

Canon-McMillan (9-10) went in a decided underdog having lost twice to Bethel Park during Section 1 play, 18-4 and 9-5, and at one point in the season was in a battle just to qualify for the postseason. But once in the playoffs, the Big Macs thrived, upsetting third-seeded Hempfield and second-seeded Norwin to reach the final.

The Big Macs went in loose and confident, though that swagger was shaken a bit in the first inning, which began after a 2 1/2-hour rain delay. C-M starting pitcher Lauren Duke loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batsman. Soltes then belted her grand slam to left field.

“We had to be perfect,” Moeller said. “We had to play and coach perfect and we didn’t do that. And then Soltes exploded.

“The first inning was a bit of a disaster. All the runs ahead of the home run came on walks.”

It was an early letdown for Canon-McMillan but the Big Macs battled back and scored single runs in the third and fourth innings.

In the third, Hailey Freeman led off with the first of her two doubles, moved to third on an error and scored a line-drive single by MacKenzie Adams. In the fourth, Elika Mowery was on first base after a fielder’s choice and Freeman smacked a run-scoring double to right centerfield.

Bethel Park’s lead was cut in half at 4-2 and Canon-McMillan had clearly gained the momentum.

“The tide was turning,” Scott said. “When it was 4-2 we said our energy level needs to pick up.”

It did in the fifth. Gianna Scuillo led off with a double off the fence in center field, Reagan Milliken was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game and Soltes singled through the left side of the infield to score two runs. Soltes would eventually score on a wild pitch that made the score 7-2.

Big Macs relief pitcher Brooke Perri retired the first two batters in the sixth, but Milliken reached on an infield single and Soltes hit her second home run of the game, also to left field.

“I felt super good,” Soltes said. “I definitely saved my best for the last (game).”

It wasn’t the final contest for either team as both advance to the PIAA playoffs that begin Monday. Canon-McMillan will play District 6 champion Mifflin County at a site and time to be determined.

“Our season has been up and down, a lot like this game,” Moeller said. “We did not play well in this one. We played better than this against Hempfield and Norwin.”

Sports Editor

Since 1986, Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for the Observer-Reporter, and named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger, and a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

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