When it came to championships this season, the Canon-McMillan baseball team doubled down.
Canon-McMillan won the PIAA Class 6A championship Friday with a 10-3 victory against Bensalem at Penn State’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Canon-McMillan put itself in some elite company with the win, and in the process, the Big Macs’ standout pitcher, Zach Rohaley, joined a select group of pitchers.
Canon-McMillan used a seven-run fifth-inning to break open a tie game and waltz to the victory, which came a little more than two weeks after the Big Macs were the big cheeses of the WPIAL. The state championship meant Canon-McMillan became only the fourth team in WPIAL history to win both WPIAL and PIAA titles in the largest classification. The others were North Allegheny in 1996, Shaler in 1980 and Penn Hills in 1978.
“That’s for you guys to decide how good this team is,” Canon-McMillan coach Tim Bruzdewicz said to media members. “But if there could be some Xbox tournament with some of those champions, I’d like to see where we’re at.”
The 10 runs Canon-McMillan (21-5) scored against Bensalem (23-4) a school near Philadelphia, were the most in a PIAA game in the largest class since, coincidentally, Canon-McMillan scored 10 in a victory against Spring-Ford 10 years ago.
“I think this win says we’re one of the best ever to come through the WPIAL,” said Canon-McMillan senior leadoff hitter Brandon Kline, who was 2 for 2 with two RBIs and two runs scored.
You could say, in terms of career wins, Rohaley is undoubtedly one of the best pitchers in WPIAL history. A senior right-hander, Rohaley started the game and lasted until the seventh. The win lifted his season record to an ultra-impressive 14-1 and he also became only the eighth pitcher in WPIAL history known to have 30 career wins. Twenty-one of those wins came in the past two years.
What was impressive about Rohaley’s high school finale was it came only three days after he threw 75 pitches and worked most of Tuesday’s semifinal game.
“It’s just a bulldog factor with him,” said Bruzdewicz. “Of those 30 wins, think of the many quality opponents beaten. My goodness, he pitched every big game.”
Bruzdewicz questioned whether he should bring back Rohaley after the semifinals. But Rohaley, who will pitch next season at Wheeling Jesuit, convinced his coach on Wednesday that he should start the final game of his career.
“It was up to Ro,” said Bruzdewicz. “The bottom line is when he tells me wants the ball, he gets the ball. … Once he told me [Wednesday], ‘Hey coach, I want the ball,’ it was his ball.”
Rohaley said he injured his groin in the second inning against Bensalem, but he grinded out a few more innings. He threw very few fastballs after the third inning. He gave up six hits and struck out six before Cam Weston relieved him. Rohaley got a nice ovation when he left the game and tipped his hat to the crowd.
“After I hurt my groin, coach Buzz was like, ‘Should we take you out?’” said Rohaley. “I told him, ‘Look, we came all the way here to get this done,’ and we got it done.”
Canon-McMillan had energy from the start and the Big Macs were into sacrificing themselves early. In the bottom of the first, Kline led off with a single, Cam Walker walked and Ian Hess singled to load the bases. Cleanup hitter Weston drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly and Nick Serafino followed with another sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
Bensalem lifted starter Nick Dean, a junior and a University of Maryland recruit, after only one inning and brought in Dom Grady. But Canon-McMillan also scored a run off Grady in the second when Rohaley walked, Connor Flaherty singled and Kline had an RBI single.
Bensalem made it interesting, though, when it scored three runs off Rohaley to tie the contest in the fourth. Then the Big Macs stepped on the gas in the fifth, sending 11 players to the plate and scoring seven runs on five hits. The big hit was Walker’s three-run double.
Eight different players had hits for Canon-McMillan. Kline and Hess were the only ones with two hits.
The funny thing about Canon-McMillan winning both the WPIAL and the PIAA is that the Big Macs did not win their section, finishing in second place behind Bethel Park. But the Big Macs ended up turning a double play on bigger championships than the section.
“I did not know what I was getting into at Canon-McMillan when I took this job,” said Bruzdewicz, who finished his third season. “People didn’t tell me the talent I was inheriting.”