The end came suddenly and harshly for the Deer Lakes High School softball team.
An excellent season that included a 20-2 overall record as well as Section 3-AA and WPIAL Class AA titles and a trip to the PIAA quarterfinals came to a close last Friday as the Lancers suffered a 4-2 loss to Martinsburg Central at St. Francis University in Loretto.
Deer Lakes' PIAA quarterfinal experience turned into a two-day ordeal, thanks in large part to some uncooperative weather. The game was originally scheduled to be played Thursday and the Deer Lakes squad boarded a bus and headed out on a two-hour journey to Cambria County. Upon their arrival, they were met by a downpour and had to turn around and return home.
The next day required an early wakeup and 8:30 a.m. departure for Loretto because the game was scheduled for a noon start so that the Lancers could return home in time for Friday night's commencement exercises.
Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said the travel and off-and-on scenario made it difficult for the team to prepare for the game.
"It was a lot," said Lancers coach Craig Taliani about the team's last game day. "But when you're in the middle of it, you don't think about it."
The previous day's events didn't seem to affect the resilient Lancers.
"They did a great job staying loose mentally and physically," Taliani said. "Everybody had some breakfast and got settled in. They were just excited to play."
The game itself turned into a tense and intense struggle. Deer Lakes and Martinsburg Central battled to a 2-2 tie into the fifth inning when Martinsburg's Kate Blattenberger struck the decisive blow, a two-run homer.
Taliani recalled the painful experience.
"We thought we had her struck out," he said.
He said Deer Lakes' Haliey Moretti had pitched to a 2-2 count and Taliani thought her next pitch was a strike.
"We were all pumped up on it when it hit the mitt," he said.
But Taliani was surprised to hear the umpire call "ball three." Then Blattenberger hit Moretti's next pitch over the fence.
Undeterred, the Lancers battled to the end. Senior outfielder Candace Scanga, one of the team's most reliable hitters, went to bat in the seventh with two outs and runners at second and third. A hit could have retied the game.
"I looked at Candace and I said 'Get a good pitch,'" Taliani recalled. "'Try to get something you can drive.'"
Scanga responded by hitting a line drive up the middle. It was a sharply struck ball, but it was caught by Martinsburg's shortstop and just like that, Deer Lakes softball run was officially over.
"Candace had a good at-bat," said Taliani, "and [Martinsburg] made a good play."
Crestfallen, the Lancers got on the bus for one final return trip this season.
"There was a lot of disappointment," said Taliani.
"They were all in. We were all expecting to keep making a run. When the game ended the way it did, we were all stunned."
Taliani said that the team became emotional at that point. He noted that the season's abrupt end was especially difficult for Scanga, one of only two seniors along with Moretti among the Deer Lakes regulars.
"Candace lost her mom right before school started [last August]," he explained. "But she rebounded. We talked, we kept in touch -- they're all pretty resilient kids."
The athletes were quiet on the bus ride home, but they used the time to shift gears because big things are on the horizon for the Deer Lakes softball team and the two seniors will move on.
Scanga will play softball for Saint Vincent College next year.
Moretti will be attending nursing school next year. She has already spent her senior year amassing college credits and working at a nursing home. Although the Lancers' underclassmen will miss Scanga and Moretti, the team has a lot of potential to make 2013 a great season.
Among the eight experienced returning players are a couple of pitchers, Tiffanie Edwards, who will be a sophomore, and Siera Sarver will be a junior.
"I would imagine Edwards will carry the [pitching] load, with Sarver picking up every fourth or fifth game," said Taliani.
The bottom line is that the loss to Martinsburg Central is not the end for this Deer Lakes team. Taliani mentioned there are some players from the middle school who will be stepping up next year. The Lancers' system is in place for another year of postseason success to happen, and Taliani is ready.
"Were looking to reload -- not rebuild," he said.