Deer Lakes, Plum, Riverview hope to learn from midseason setbacks
At different points this baseball season, Deer Lakes, Plum and Riverview — three teams that entered the preseason as WPIAL title contenders on paper — each experienced humbling losses.
None among the three lost the notion that they still belong among their classification's elite, though.
In the WPIAL playoffs, which begin Monday, the Lancers (14-4), Mustangs (14-5) and Raiders (12-4) will begin their quests to prove that their preseason reputations were more than unsubstantiated hype. Deer Lakes, which shared the Section 3-AA title with Freeport (11-5), earned the highest seed among the Alle-Kiski Valley's seven postseason qualifiers, as it grabbed the No. 5 spot. Plum is the 10 seed in Class AAAA, while Riverview is No. 11 in Class A.
Unlike Deer Lakes, Plum and Riverview, Freeport and Springdale started the year somewhat unheralded, yet both went on to claim shares of section titles. The Dynamos (9-7), co-Section 4-A champions, split their title with North Catholic (8-7) and ended up as a No. 7 seed, while the Yellowjackets received the No. 6 seed in Class AA.
A 12-2 loss at Freeport on April 21 drastically influenced the way Deer Lakes viewed itself. The Lancers have won seven in a row since then, including a 7-4 victory over Freeport.
“To get 10-runned in the middle of the season like that, it certainly woke us up,” Lancers coach Jon Pedrosky said. “I think it put us on a roll and got us more focused. I think we were in too much of a relaxed state, and I think that put us in more of a pressing state, which isn't always a bad thing.”
Springdale had a similarly profound effect on Riverview's season. The Raiders entered their first game against the Dynamos on April 17 with an 8-0 record and led by four runs in the eighth inning but lost 11-10 after Springdale's Adam Lock hit a walk-off grand slam.
Riverview went on to lose three of its next four games, including a rematch with Springdale. But the Raiders rebounded from that slump with three straight wins, including an 8-1 victory over Class A No. 5 seed Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on May 6.
“We know many of those losses are pretty much of our own doing,” Raiders coach Rich Griser said. “We really were never outclassed, though against Springdale, when they came back, you kind of have to tip your cap to them.
“What we learned is you don't want to get too complacent. You want to make sure you're mentally tough the whole way.”
Plum struggled with lapses in focus, too, Mustangs coach Carl Vollmer said. The problem became painfully clear via one-inning stints: the Mustangs allowed nine runs in the first inning of a 12-6 loss to Baldwin and surrendered eight runs in the second inning of an 8-7 loss to Central Catholic.
“I'm sure a lot of people say this, but our season could've been looked at as a very dominant year, if we don't let a couple innings get away from us,” Vollmer said. “We have a good baseball team, but we haven't reached our potential. If we do, we could be dangerous.”
While Deer Lakes, Plum and Riverview worry about the application of lessons learned, Springdale looks to continue the surge it started in early April. Four straight nonsection losses to open the season seemed to set a bleak tone for Springdale, but coach Randy Eaton noted those losses came against Class AAA Yough, Class AA Burrell and Class A's Vincentian Academy and Serra Catholic, who earned the No. 3 and 6 seed, respectively.
“We played some tough competition early ... so we knew that when we went into section play, we'd have the upper hand,” Eaton said. “I don't think anybody knows what they're going to get when they meet us. We're ready to take on anybody.”