Deer Lakes softball feels 'no pressure at all'
Technically, Deer Lakes' softball team is in the same position it was a year ago: situated among the Class AA final four and a win away from the WPIAL championship game.
But the road to get here has been somewhat different for the top-seeded Lancers (17-0), who ripped McGuffey, 13-3, in the quarterfinals Monday following a first-round bye.
Deficits and rallies to overcome them were common last season, especially in the playoffs, where Deer Lakes won three one-run games en route to the WPIAL title.
This year, the Lancers have been nearly untouchable, setting the tone with rapid-fire offense that's produced 12 runs per game.
They've used the mercy rule like other teams use swing weights in the on-deck circle. They've trailed exactly twice, including, 2-0, against McGuffey, but have surged to win going away.
Such dominance comes with pressure. Such efficiency becomes expected. The team was seeded fourth last season and flew under the playoff radar because it never had been to the finals.
This year is different.
As the clear-cut No. 1 team, Deer Lakes is supposed to win the title and almost expected to continue to pound teams with offensive fireworks.
“We won so many close games last year,” senior shortstop Becca Babincak said. “We've been up so much this year. We learned a lot from what we did last year. I think we believe in each other. We have so many young girls pitching in this year.”
Deer Lakes did win tight games against Burrell, 2-1, and Freeport, 5-4, in eight innings. But those games are like misshapen puzzle pieces among the Lancers' overpowering results.
“We want to set the tone in games, not have to come back,” coach Craig Taliani said. “We want to add on (to the score) any chance we get.”
Only two seniors are missing from the 2012 team, yet this group seems to have its own identity.
“The two teams are much different and it's the experience that the girls picked up that separates them,” Taliani said.
A talented lineup produced 16 hits in the quarterfinals, with its two big innings featuring two-out rallies.
“We hit the ball hard,” sophomore pitcher Tiffany Edwards said. “We get in there and take our cuts and we try to drive the ball.”
Deer Lakes' offensive efficiency has become the standard. To players in this lineup, leaving runners on base is a cardinal sin.
“Everyone in our batting order can hit,” Babincak said. “We win with complete team efforts.”
One would think the deeper Deer Lakes goes, the more teams it will see with the potential to silence them.
“No team is going to let us walk all over them,” said Edwards, who is 17-0 and has struck out 121. “Anything can happen.”
Beaver, a giant killer with a young lineup, can't be taken lightly.
Beaver is led by freshman standout Casey Farkasovsky, the team's top hitter and pitcher. She is batting above .600 and is among the WPIAL leaders in strikeouts with more than 100.
Junior catcher Bella Valent hit a three-run homer against Seton-La Salle in the first round, and freshman infielder Ashley Kondracki's two-run triple was a key hit in the quarters for the Bobcats.
“There's no pressure on us at all,” Taliani said. “We're going to go out and play our next game. Anyone we play the rest of the season is going to be a great team.”
Deer Lakes senior catcher Hannah Blinn is hitting .519 with 33 RBI and sophomore second baseman Katie Gozzard has a .518 average with 25 RBI.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.