A year after winning WPIAL gold, Deer Lakes had to settle for a WPIAL silver medal this season. But on Monday, the Lancers responded like champions.
Just four days after a 5-1 loss to Riverside in the WPIAL Class AA championship, Deer Lakes' first loss to a WPIAL opponent in nearly 13 months, the team responded with a championship-caliber performance. The Lancers knocked off District 10 champion Fairview, 3-0, in the PIAA first round to keep their season alive.
Fairview was 22-0 and had only lost two games total over the past three seasons. They were the three-time defending District 10 champions and were playing in their backyard at Penn State Behrend.
But it was Deer Lakes who looked right at home. It shook off any WPIAL hangover effects quickly by jumping out to a 2-0 lead after two innings.
"We definitely wanted to go out and try to redeem ourselves," Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. "We were not playing our game on Thursday."
Last Thursday Deer Lakes, the No. 1 seed in WPIAL Class AA, faced No. 3 Riverside, an undefeated team with a dominant pitcher who had only surrendered runs to one team all season. The pitcher, Kirsten Wilson, held Deer Lakes hitless through five innings. The Lancers eventually rallied and scored on Wilson, snapping an 11-game shutout streak. They threatened in the sixth and seventh innings before falling, 5-1.
On Monday in the PIAA playoffs it was a different story.
Sophomore pitcher Tiffany Edwards was sensational, needing only 74 pitches to toss a complete-game shutout. Junior first baseman Sierra Sarver, freshman outfielder Rachel Tanilli and Edwards all drove in runs.
"That is what we talked about, we wanted to be the ones to get the early lead and set the tone for the game," Taliani said. "They followed the game plan perfectly."
After a WPIAL playoff run that featured back-to-back stops at North Allegheny before the WPIAL final at California University, the team drove more than two hours to Erie for Monday's matchup.
"Everyone had really big smiles, everybody is happy to still be playing," Taliani said. "We had two good practices in between [the WPIAL final and PIAA first round]. You could just tell they were excited to get back on the field."
The team got to ride on a charter bus for the trip to Behrend and then eat together after the game at a Golden Corral in Erie.
"This was our first time this season to get a charter bus, we are living pretty large right now," senior catcher Hannah Blinn joked after the game. "We went crazy at Golden Corral, we mainly ate a lot of wings."
Blinn and her fellow seniors, Becca Babincak, Leanne Crawford and Courtney Lubick like to joke around and keep things light but also know when it is time to focus. Their leadership was integral in getting the team back on track after the WPIAL championship defeat.
"There are four of us and we all take responsibility and leadership roles," Blinn said. "That is very important.
"We know the other girls are looking up to us, if our heads are down, their heads are going to be down. We keep cheering and keep trying to light a fire each game.
"This has just been amazing, I can't believe I got to do this two years in a row with a team that jelled like this."
After playing Riverside and Fairview, two undefeated teams, Deer Lakes will now play District 6 champion Phillipsburg-Osceola (21-1) in the PIAA quarterfinals at 2 p.m. today at Bedford High School.
"They are a perennial powerhouse," Taliani said. "Every year they are in the running for a state title. They have a solid program out there."
The Mounties won the 2011 PIAA Class AA championship.