At WPIAL softball championship time, Greensburg Central Catholic (14-6) and Deer Lakes (18-1) are coming down different paths to get to the same goal.
One pathway leads back to Greensburg Central Catholic's Alie Perz. In last week's semifinal against Riverside, she stood at the plate with two strikes. The Centurions were down a run but had two runners in scoring position.
Perz was calm, cool and collected. She fired the ball up the middle and knocked in both runs. Two batters later, Leah Daigle did the same thing. The two seniors' hits catalyzed a four-run rally that sealed a 6-3 victory for the Centurions.
For the Deer Lakes team, the flashback actually goes to the Lancers' May 22 practice. Motivated by their tough quarterfinal victory against Mohawk, the Deer Lakes team drilled for defense.
Infielders C.C. Sarver, Katie Gozzard, Becca Babincak and Tiffanie Edwards worked alongside pitcher Haliey Moretti and catcher Hannah Blinn. Together, they honed their reflexes to make slap-hit attempts and bunts ineffective. The result was a 2-0 semifinal win against Neshannock.
"[Moretti] pitched a gem of a game," coach Craig Taliani said about Deer Lakes' semifinal. "We were able to keep [Neshannock's] batters off balance."
Deer Lakes allowed only three hits in the game, and there were no strikeouts.
With the pathways to today's WPIAL Class AA championship game (2 p.m. at California University of Pennsylvania) complete, both Greensburg Central and Deer Lakes are coming off a week-long lag between semifinals and the championship.
"They're all saying they're ready, 'Let's play!'" said Greensburg Central Catholic coach Gary Ciarimboli.
The Centurions' practices, which ordinarily ran two-and-a-half hours earlier in the season, have been pared to an hour and a half at most, now.
"We mostly throw it around and have some fun," Ciarimboli said. "The big thing right now is to stay loose."
Taliani told his team to hit the books for Memorial Day weekend.
"The girls' have finals coming up through this week," he said. "So I said, 'Take the weekend. Get yourself in order and do what you can for your finals.'"
Taliani didn't want the players' schoolwork hanging over their heads.
"I think the team's biggest attribute is the chemistry they have together," Taliani said. "They believe in each other and they trust each other. They know that somebody is going to make a play, and somebody is going to get a hit."
The Lancers sometimes build up their camaraderie by getting together for some good food. Assistant coach Rich Edwards sometimes procures the ice cream truck from West Deer's Edwards Ice Cream for team members. Additionally, the team has pizza parties and breakfasts.
"Every once in a while I make them waffles," said Taliani.
Greensburg's Ciarimboli is also a big believer in fun.
"If you're not having fun, you shouldn't be playing," he said.
The Centurions hold a running joke that sophomore pitcher Anna Marie Gatti's elementary school-aged sister is soon to replace Anna Marie.
Nonetheless, Deer Lakes and Greensburg Central Catholic seem to find softball victory to be the most fun of all the good times they share.
"The team knows when I'm serious and when I'm joking around," said Greensburg's Ciarimboli.
He noted that the Centurions remember losing to Burrell in the WPIAL championship game last year.
"They know what it takes, now," Ciarimboli said. "They want to do it this time."
First Published May 31, 2012 12:00 AM