CM’s Astuto shares MVP honors

Published Jul 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm (Updated Jul 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm)

If there is a will, then there is a way. Canon-McMillan softball manager Michele Moeller and her ace Alayna Astuto believe in that philosophy.

For years, Astuto wanted to pitch and Moeller found a way to make that happen. Plenty of work, however, was required.

“When I first saw Alayna,” Moeller began, “I thought, ‘My God, she can’t even balance.’ I said to her, ‘You need to go walk curbs.’”

Astuto did that and more. Now, she is the role model for young girls in Canonsburg, North Strabane and Cecil Township that aspire to play softball in the school district.

“I have younger pitchers now and the parents say, ‘Do you think she can pitch?’ I say, listen, you don’t know what a kid is going to turn into.

“I didn’t know Alayna was going to turn into what she was going to turn into. You just have to encourage them. If they’re willing to work hard, you never know what will happen.”

What happened this spring amazed the regional softball community and beyond. Canon-McMillan claimed its first PIAA championship. The Lady Macs also captured their second straight WPIAL title, an undefeated section banner and a 25-1 overall record.

For much of that success, the Lady Macs had Astuto to thank. She did not lose a game this season, compiling a 25-0 mark. She did not pitch in the team’s 17-6 defeat to Hempfield.

In 145 innings, the Waynesburg recruit fanned 142 batters. She walked only 29 and allowed only 22 earned runs for a 1.06 ERA.

Astuto saved her finest performances for her toughest opponents.

During her 7-0 playoff run, she hurled three shutouts, including a 5-0 decision over North Allegheny in the state quarterfinals. She had beaten those Tigers, 5-2, in the WPIAL championship contest. In the district semifinals, Astuto tossed a perfect game and blanked Hempfield. The Big Macs also dismissed the Spartans, 3-1, in the first round of the state playoffs.

During the post-season, Astuto allowed four runs, only two of them earned. She struck out 53. In addition to her 0.26 ERA, opponents batted .143 against her.

“Although we were blessed with a powerhouse offensive line-up throughout the season, what Alayna was able to do on a consistent basis throughout the playoffs was phenomenal,” said Moeller.

In the state finals, Astuto, indeed was phenomenal. She took a no-hitter into the 10th inning, when the game resorted to the international tiebreaker rule for resolution. Yet, Astuto remained strong, finishing with 18 struck outs during the 2-hour, 50-minute affair that was decided in the 12th inning by a two-run homer from CM rookie shortstop Linda Rush.

“It was exciting to watch Alayna step into that circle and lead her team,” said Moeller. “She showed remarkable inner strength and confidence. When I watched the PIAA final on TV, you could just see it in Alayna. She was so calm and cool when she stepped on the rubber no matter the situation.”

Situations, such as the state finals, are what a pitcher trains for, says Astuto. She used all five of her different pitches to silence opposing bats, particularly those from Neshaminy. She allowed four hits in the PIAA championship contest.

“It’s hard,” said Astuto, “but you just keep pushing yourself because this is what you have worked for. This was the only way to go out. Win it all. I’ll treasure this forever. I know I’ll never forget this.”

Nor will Moeller ever forget how Astuto developed from a young girl into a state championship pitcher, not to mention, an Almanac MVP. She shares that distinction with Chartiers-Houston’s Kayla Briggs.

“What I love about sports are the positive characteristics these young ladies, like Alayna, have and the opportunities they take advantage of to further their development. Alayna developed into a great pitcher as well as a fine young lady, who is a role model for future generations.”

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