North Xtra: Deer Lakes' great run ends

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The rise of the Deer Lakes High School softball program has been a steady one beginning in the mid-2000s.

First came a WPIAL playoff berth in 2005 then the program's first section title in 2006 and then a playoff win in 2009.

This decade, the rate of ascension has spiked.

After missing the playoffs in 2010, the Deer Lakes softball program has put together a stretch of success that can rival nearly anyone in the WPIAL.

The Lancers have reached the WPIAL semifinals four consecutive seasons, the WPIAL Class AA championship game three consecutive seasons and the PIAA playoffs three consecutive seasons.

But along with the success has come some disappointment as well.

Two years in a row Deer Lakes sustained its first loss of the season in the WPIAL final.

This season the Lancers entered the WPIAL playoffs with a 15-0 record. They knocked off Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, McGuffey and Seton-LaSalle to make a third consecutive trip to California University to play for a WPIAL title.

Unlike when they won it in 2012 with a come-from-behind win against Greensburg Central Catholic, Deer Lakes fell, 2-0, to Beaver Area in the WPIAL finals in a battle of the unbeatens.

Then the Lancers saw their season come to an end in the first round of the PIAA playoffs with an 8-7 loss to Wilmington,

"The season might not have ended the way they wanted it to," Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. "But they played well and had a lot of good experiences. I think they were pretty proud to go back to a third consecutive WPIAL title game."

Deer Lakes is 57-6 over the past three seasons and 39-1 in section play with three outright section titles. The team has also produced back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.

"We have had a lot of success over the last few years," Taliani said. "I am sure there are quite a few teams who would love to have the opportunities that we had. To win almost 70 games in the last four years, that is pretty satisfying.

"It would have been nice to have a few more championships in there, but it has been a good run. We hope to continue it."

Continuing this level of success will not be easy, but Deer Lakes only graduates one senior, slugging first baseman Siera Sarver. This season, the opposition often pitched around Sarver, but she still managed to finish with 26 RBIs batting out of the cleanup spot.

"She was kind of like the big sister," Taliani said. "She was a very good leader and she had a real nice season. Other teams pitched around her quite often."

Deer Lakes managed to repeat having an undefeated regular season despite having to replace four starters from a year ago.

"I think it is very difficult anytime to go undefeated, so we certainly didn't take anything for granted," Taliani said. "We knew at the beginning of the year we were a work in progress, that is how I described it.

"I didn't feel like we were rebuilding, we were just learning to play with a new group of girls. They came together really nicely, they had really good chemistry and everyone really supported each other on the team. The girls are the ones who came together and performed so great this year."

Junior shortstop Katie Gozzard wielded one of the hottest bats in the postseason for Deer Lakes. Junior pitcher Tiffany Edwards has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the WPIAL. She has a remarkable 43-4 record since her freshman year.

"I think we have made a lot of progress," Taliani said. "You never want to be complacent, that is for sure. There is always the idea that we can improve and we can.

"I really think, until there is ever a perfect season [including the playoffs], there is always room for improvement. The girls have played and learned to win and learned to be able to play in tight spots and come out successful."

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