Deer Lakes, Riverside in battle of unbeatens

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Deer Lakes is 18-0 this season. So is Riverside, its opponent Thursday in the WPIAL Class AA championship.

While the win totals are excellent, it's the amount of losses -- or rather the lack thereof -- that makes this matchup a rare thing.

Such a battle of unbeatens has not happened in the past 15 years. In the previous title-game meeting of undefeated teams in 1998, Carmichaels beat Sto-Rox in the Class AA championship.

The Deer Lakes-Riverside game highlights the four games to be played at California University's Lilly Field, beginning with the 11:30 a.m. Class A championship between Neshannock and Carmichaels. Deer Lakes and Riverside play at 2 p.m. followed by Greensburg Salem vs. Ambridge in Class AAA at 4:30, and Canon-McMillan vs. North Allegheny in Class AAAA at 7.

Deer Lakes is the top-seeded team and defending champion. Riverside, the No. 3 seed, is no stranger to playing in WPIAL championships. The Panthers have won five titles, the most recent in 2009.

Riverside has one of the area's top pitchers in senior Kirsten Wilson, who has played a huge role in the Panthers' current 11-game shutout run. The team has not allowed a run since April 18 and has given up only six all season. Wilson has 213 strikeouts, and she threw a perfect game in the first round, followed by two-hitters in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

"She can be a dominant pitcher," Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. "From velocity to pitch selection and being able to hit her spots, she's a top-notch pitcher. She's definitely one of the best in Western Pennsylvania, if not the state."

Deer Lakes has an excellent pitcher in sophomore Tiffany Edwards, but what the Lancers have done at the plate sticks out more. The Lancers are one of the top hitting teams in the WPIAL, scoring at least 11 runs in nine of their past 10 games and averaging better than 11 runs this season. The Lancers flexed their muscles in the semifinals, using an eight-run third inning to rally from a 7-0 deficit and beat Beaver, 11-7. Senior Hannah Blinn is hitting .500 with a team-high 35 RBIs.

It is unlikely Deer Lakes will hit that well against Riverside, meaning this could be a low-scoring game.

"It's going to be close," Taliani said. " I wouldn't expect to see a slugfest, but anything to happen."

Class AAAA

Top-seed Canon-McMillan (20-1) will be swinging for its second WPIAL title in a row. The Big Macs, led by junior Giorgiana Zeremenko, are potent on offense, and senior Alayna Astuto tossed a perfect game against Hempfield in the semifinals. North Allegheny (17-4), the No. 3 seed, features senior Bonnie Pierson, batting .405 with a team-high 34 RBIs.

Class AAA

Senior pitcher Jayne Oberdorf has No. 1 Greensburg Salem (20-2) one win away from its first title. She finished the regular season third in the WPIAL in strikeouts and has 208. Ambridge (16-3) has lost once in the past month, that defeat coming at Canon-McMillan. The No. 3 Bridgers held off West Mifflin, 5-4, in the semifinals.

Class A

Neshannock (17-2), the No. 1 seed, is looking for its first WPIAL championship, but the Lancers captured the PIAA Class AA title a year ago. Carmichaels (21-2) was the runner-up a season ago. The No. 3 seed Mighty Mikes rely heavily on sophomore pitcher Erica Burns, who has struck out 188 and also has driven in 22 runs.

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