North Xtra: Deer Lakes deals well with success

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Perfection wasn't necessarily the game plan for the Deer Lakes softball program.

But for the second consecutive year, the Lancers were unbeatable during the regular season. In fact, they've won 33 regular-season games in a row since losing a 1-0 decision against Burrell in 2012.

"We've competed every game," Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. "No matter the outcome, as long as we play our best and leave it all on the field, that is all you can ask for. We were fortunate to be on the winning side.

"The girls have played every game like a playoff game. They never took anything for granted and played hard enough that I never questioned their effort."

The Lancers, who won a WPIAL championship in 2012 and finished as last season's district runner-up in Class AA, went 15-0 this spring before entering the playoffs. They also captured another section crown by posting a 14-0 mark in Section 3-AA.

Deer Lakes (17-0) entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the Class AA bracket and slipped past No. 15-seed Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 2-1, in the first round. After trailing 1-0, the Lancers scored a pair of runs in the sixth inning to beat the Chargers.

They advanced into the quarterfinals and earned a 2-0 decision against McGuffey (14-4) earlier this week before meeting Seton-LaSalle (12-2) Wednesday in the semifinals.

"We've played all facets of the game pretty well all season," Taliani said. "We've hit well and hit well with runners in scoring position. We've pitched well and had good defense to back it up.

"We have a very athletic group of girls who play multiple sports and who all play summer ball."

Through its quarterfinal game against McGuffey, Deer Lakes had posted eight shutout wins, scored more than 10 runs in 11 games and surrendered a total of just 30 runs in 17 games.

"This group continued to get better during the season," Taliani said. "I've watched them make adjustments at the plate and in the field. We've continued to work on situational and experience-type strategies and the girls were always open to being coached.

"We haven't had to worry about over-coaching with technique. This is a smart group of kids who continues to think about plays before they happened. That transitioned onto the ballfield."

Junior Tiffany Edwards has been a big key to the Lancers' success. A right-handed pitcher, she was 13-0 with 84 strikeouts during the regular season. She also struck out 10 batters against OLSH.

"Tiffany has been solid from the circle all year," Taliani said. "She's had another great season and is something like 40-2 in her career.

"Everything starts and stops with her. Every day she brings a presence to the circle."

With only one senior -- first baseman Siera Sarver -- Taliani's lineup was guided by the experience of Sarver, Edwards and junior shortstop Katie Gozzard.

"We've just had good chemistry from the beginning of the season all the way through the year," Taliani said.

"We've only had one senior in Siera Sarver and then mostly underclassmen. With Tiffany Edwards and Katie Gizzard, those three girls brought playoff experience playing on our WPIAL championship team two years ago and they set the tone for the younger girls."

Catcher Sarah Blinn, outfielder Maria Taliani, Rachel Tanilli, outfielder Stephanie Drapela and outfielder Maureen Hutchinson all are sophomores, while freshmen third baseman Brittany Dengler and second baseman/pitcher Shae Robson round out Taliani's lineup.

"I can't say enough about the chemistry of this team," Taliani said. "The chemistry just has been incredible. We've never had one mean word said or a conflict. They all pick each other up and have been each other's best teammates.

"In the beginning, I thought this would be a work in progress but I knew we had a lot back with experience. I knew we would have some new girls fill in and they really stepped right in and never missed a beat."


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