Flawless defense leads Deer Lakes to WPIAL title game
Brain freeze never felt so cool.
Deer Lakes celebrated its 2-0 softball semifinal victory over previously unbeaten and top-seeded Neshannock at North Allegheny on Wednesday with a trip to Edwards' Ice Cream, a West Deer business owned by assistant coach Rich Edwards.
The Lancers' durable defense got in a few extra scoops.
Rather than a usually explosive offensive output leading the way, one flawless putout after another propelled Deer Lakes (18-1) into the WPIAL Class AA finals for the first time.
Senior Haliey Moretti pitched a three-hitter, without the benefit of a strikeout, instead leaning on her sure-gloved teammates as No. 4 Deer Lakes advanced to face No. 7 Greensburg Central Catholic (14-6) in the Class AA title game.
Deer Lakes also secured its first PIAA playoff berth.
“I am completely confident they will make plays,” Moretti said of her defense. “No worries at all.”
The championship is set for May 31 at California (Pa.) University. It will mark the third straight year an Alle-Kiski Valley team has appeared in the Class AA finals.
Greensburg Central eliminated Deer Lakes in last year's semifinals, 6-2, and lost to Burrell, 3-1, in the final.
Neshannock fell to 19-1 and can make the state playoffs if it beats Riverside in the WPIAL third-place game.
“It's amazing to know we made history for Deer Lakes,” senior center fielder Candace Scanga said. “It'll still be hard to believe, though, until we're actually there.”
Both Lancers' runs came in the bottom of the first, thanks to RBI by sophomore first baseman C.C. Sarver and junior catcher Hannah Blinn.
Second baseman Katie Gozzard doubled off the top of the fence and later scored on Sarver's single to right. Blinn followed with her 13th consecutive hit, a sharp double to make it 2-0.
Blinn added another double later and finished 2 for 3, as did Sarver.
“I was really impressed with how focused the girls were,” Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. “I mean, from the time they got on the bus, it was all business.
“This team is locked in right now, but we still have one more mile to go.”
Moretti, who forced 13 flyouts, retired nine of the game's final 10 batters.
“It was important for us to get some runs on the board early,” Moretti said. “We told ourselves that's what we needed to do.”
Neshannock appeared to score a run in the third, but Rachel Iorio left third base early on a tag attempt on Marissa DeMatteo's sacrifice fly, and Iorio was called out and the run negated.
Freshman Madison Shaffer had two hits for Neshannock, which also lost to Deer Lakes last season in the first round.
Both teams have young rosters with a combined three seniors.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.