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Stirring rally in the past, Deer Lakes focuses on Riverside

Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
The Deer Lakes softball team celebrates its win over Beaver at North Allegheny High School on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

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WPIAL Class AA softball championship

No. 1 Deer Lakes (18-0) vs. No. 3 Riverside (18-0)

2 p.m. Thursday, California (Pa.) University

Top high school sports
Friday, May 24, 2013, 1:21 a.m.

A celebratory melee ensued after Deer Lakes' softball team completed a thrilling, 11-7 comeback win in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals against Beaver on Wednesday night at North Allegheny.

Exhaustion and exhilaration set in when the game finally ended nearly four hours after it began. It was a championship-type celebration one round early for the Lancers, who flexed their offensive muscles once again and escaped “The Rally on Route 19.”

“I'm speechless; this is just crazy,” junior first baseman CiCi Sarver said after the No. 1-seeded Lancers (18-0) rallied from a 7-0 deficit after two innings, and weathered thunder and lightning delays of 30 and 93 minutes, to fight their way back to the championship game.

The game quickly became an instant classic, for one of the WPIAL's rising programs.

“Nobody wants to win more than my teammates,” senior designated player Courtney Lubick said. “We showed that today.”

And the Lancers showed they're not ready to give up their title after winning the championship a year ago.

They'll play another undefeated team, Riverside (18-0), in the finals Thursday at California (Pa.) University.

“It's awfully tough when you're down by a touchdown,” Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. “But we're the champs until it's over. Like I always, say, we'll take our chances against anybody.”

Deer Lakes players remained upbeat, joking around and blasting music on the team bus during the second delay, which threatened to suspend the game until Thursday.

“They're rocking the bus and having a good time,” Taliani said. “We knew what we had to do. They've been through adversity before.”

Said senior left fielder Leanne Crawford: “There was no reason to put our heads down.”

The inning that saved their season saw the Lancers string together seven hits and score eight runs while sending 13 batters to the plate.

In a matter of minutes, in their first at-bats after the long delay, Deer Lakes loaded the bases and, like it does so often, got the offense churning.

Sarver and senior catcher Hannah Blinn had two-run hits before freshman Rachel Tanilli, the No. 9 hitter, drove in the go-ahead run for an 8-7 lead.

Freshman Maureen Hutchinson had three hits, including two in the decisive third inning.

“On this team, there's always someone to pick you up,” senior shortstop Becca Babincak said. “That's how we play.”

The epic comeback in the books, the team can now begin preparations for five-time WPIAL champion Riverside, led by pitcher Kirsten Wilson.

The A-K Valley has produced four of the last six WPIAL champs in Class AA, including three in a row: Valley, Burrell and Deer Lakes. But the other two titles during that span belong to Riverside.

Riverside, which has posted 11 straight shutouts, has allowed just six runs all season. Deer Lakes can score that many before the hot dogs are warm in concession stand. The Lancers average 11.3 runs per game.

Still, “We'll have our hands full,” Taliani said.

Taliani gave the team a day off Thursday. Practice resumes Friday as the team continues its title defense.

“I told them to treat (the title) like a baby,” Taliani said. “We know (winning another title) won't be easy.”

Babincak had players sign a softball, which was given to Taliani as a gift from the team. Wednesday was his 47th birthday.

“Unreal,” Babincak said of the comeback win. “We weren't nervous. We know we can pick each other up. We did it for Coach T.”

Taliani is a year older, but games like the semifinal don't slow the aging process.

“At least I know my heart's still strong,” he said.

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