Deer Lakes softball rolls after early deficit
The offensive machine that is the Deer Lakes softball team showed no ill-effects from a 10-day layoff when it finally opened the WPIAL playoffs Monday.
If anything, the extended break from a first-round bye allowed the team's battery to recharge. And a full battery for this team is draining for opponents.
“I think we came out charged up,” Deer Lakes sophomore second baseman Katie Gozzard said.
No. 1 seed Deer Lakes overcame its first multi-run deficit of the season with a sustained scoring barrage and steamrolled No. 9 McGuffey, 13-3, in the Class AA quarterfinals at North Allegheny.
The defending-champion Lancers (17-0) move into the semifinals for the third straight year and will face No. 13 seed Beaver (12-6) on Wednesday at a time and site to be announced.
Deer Lakes wasn't twiddling its thumbs during the bye. It scrimmaged Class AAA Hampton and Canon-McMillan, the top seed in Class AAAA. The Lancers had little trouble against the latter, a sure sign they'd be ready for their playoff opener.
Deer Lakes, which has scored 11 or more runs a dozen times this season, had 16 hits. Gozzard went 4 for 5 with five RBI, and speedy senior shortstop Becca Babincak added three hits and three RBI.
Senior catcher Hannah Blinn added two hits and drove in two runs.
“Hitting is contagious,” Gozzard said. “Once one of us starts hitting, the next one follows.”
The champs were challenged early but didn't flinch.
Deer Lakes fell behind, 2-0, in the second inning and struck out four times before getting acquainted with McGuffey (15-6) pitcher Cassie Weiss.
One they did, the Lancers cozied up inside their own batting cage and kept the revolving doors moving.
“Once we get a hold of someone, we keep hitting them,” Deer Lakes sophomore pitcher Tiffany Edwards said. “Once we saw (Weiss) for a while, we got used to her.”
Deer Lakes worked on Weiss' tendencies in practice, particularly her curveball.
“I am not going to disclose our secrets, but we tried to simulate (Weiss) the best we could,” Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. “We were prepared for this game.”
Babincak and Gozzard, the No. 1 and 2 hitters in the order, were a formidable jumpstart to the offense. Deer Lakes scored five runs in the third and two in the fourth, with both rallies coming after two outs.
“We rose to the occasion,” Taliani said. “That's a good pitcher we faced. You have to have that apprehension and the butterflies.”
In the third, they put together five straight hits, including a two-run double by Blinn. Babincak and Gozzard hit back-to-back RBI singles to push the lead to 7-2 in the fourth.
In the sixth, Babincak singled in a run, Gozzard ripped an RBI double, and Sierra Sarver added a sacrifice fly to make it 10-3.
Gozzard's two-run single pushed it to 13-3 in the seventh.
Center fielder Mandy May had a two-run triple for the Highlanders, who made the playoffs in Class AAA last season.
The other Class AA semifinal will feature Riverside against Chartiers-Houston.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.