It will be a battle of the unbeatens in the WPIAL Class AA final when No. 1-seeded Deer Lakes (18-0) meets No. 3 Riverside (18-0) today at 2 p.m. at California University of Pennsylvania.
It is the first matchup of unbeaten teams in a WPIAL softball final since Carmichaels defeated Sto-Rox in the 1998 WPIAL Class AA championship game.
The game presents the classic "unstoppable-force-against-immovable-object" scenario. Deer Lakes, the defending WPIAL champion, can produce runs like few teams in the WPIAL. The Lancers have scored in double digits the past four games and in nine of the past 10. In the playoffs they defeated McGuffey, 13-3, and Beaver Area, 11-7.
Meanwhile, Riverside boasts senior pitcher Kirsten Wilson, one of the most dominant pitchers in the state. She has shut out 16 of 18 opponents this season.
In the playoffs Riverside blanked Bentworth, 10-0, Steel Valley, 6-0, and Chartiers-Houston, 4-0. Wilson has only allowed six runs all season.
Mohawk has been the only team to score on the Panthers this season. Riverside has not allowed a run since April 18, a span of 11 games.
"[Riverside] is an awesome team," Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. "Everybody knows they have a well-above-average pitcher. She is very strong, probably one of the best in Western Pennsylvania if not the state. It is hard to compare her to anyone else until you really see her in a game.
"I know she is dominating. I cannot honestly say if we have seen anybody like her this year."
Deer Lakes is seeking to become the first repeat champions in Class AA since 2008-09 when, coincidentally, Riverside pulled off the feat.
"They always say the next one is always the toughest," Taliani said. "Whether it is the first one or trying to defend it, I think they are equally as difficult. Last year it was the fear of the unknown, this year it is the fear of the known."
Riverside has won five WPIAL softball titles while last season was Deer Lakes' first.
This will be the Panthers second consecutive game against an unbeaten team. They knocked off No. 2 Chartiers-Houston in the semifinals. Wilson fired a two-hitter with 13 strikeouts while also hitting a home run in the game.
"They have a good team all around and a very good coaching staff," Taliani said. "That staff has been together for many years and they have been there before. They know what it takes."
Deer Lakes has won 24 consecutive games against WPIAL opponents. Sophomore pitcher Tiffany Edwards is a perfect 26-0 in her two-year career. She was one of seven returning starters back this season for the Lancers.
"Last year was the first time we have gotten that far," Taliani said. "This is a pretty similar group. These girls have been through it -- it is kind of a carryover from last season. They are a very competitive group of girls."
Deer Lakes is led by its four senior captains, left fielder Leanne Crawford, designated player Courtney Lubick, second baseman Becca Babincak and catcher Hannah Blinn. Never was the senior leadership those four provide more valuable than in the WPIAL semifinals when Deer Lakes fell behind 7-0 after two innings. The players gathered on the team bus after a rain delay after the second inning.
"That was a great team win," Taliani said. "The seniors kept everybody focused while they were sitting on the bus. They knew we were going to get another chance. I think that is the furthest we have been down over the past two seasons. I don't think anybody was panicking, there was nobody who was writing things off."
The Lancers came back from the rain delay and posted an eight-run third inning with 13 batters coming to the plate. Edwards did not allow a hit after the second inning.
Riverside may be surprised to see Deer Lakes in the final. The team attended the Deer Lakes-Beaver Area semifinal but left after the second inning rain delay with Deer Lakes down, 7-0.
"They have a real nice team," Riverside coach Pam McCarty said. "I really believe with all my heart we have the strongest Double-A section -- it prepared us for this. I really credit a lot of our success to our section."
While Deer Lakes is the No. 1 seed and defending champion, there hardly appears to be a decided favorite in this game.
"It is a one-game season now -- anything can happen," Taliani said.