Deer Lakes softball team leans on its seniors
Given the team's spotless record, Deer Lakes has had to deal with relatively little adversity this season.
Sure, the Lancers (18-0) have rallied from three deficits, including two in the playoffs, to get back to the WPIAL Class AA softball championship game.
But most players said the reason they don't fold under the pressure is because their four senior leaders won't let it happen.
“They're our four senior captains, and they all bring different personalities,” Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. “All of their qualities combine to make us a stronger team.”
Shortstop Becca Babincak, catcher Hannah Blinn, left fielder Leanne Crawford and designated player Courtney Lubick have been mainstays in the program during its upward climb.
All four played a part in the school's first WPIAL championship last season.
Blinn and Babincak are four-year starters. Crawford has started three years — two in the outfield — and Lubick has been starting for two years.
As the leadoff hitter, Babincak lights the fuse to an explosive offense. There aren't many players better at dropping a bunt, and Babincak's speed is an asset.
“I am the most competitive person I know,” said Babincak, who has scored 29 of the team's 204 runs. “We could be playing a game with a piece of paper in class, and I want to win. It could be golf, fishing, whatever. I want to beat you.”
A basketball standout, Babincak will try to play that and softball at Point Park.
“They're separate seasons, so they don't run into each other,” Babincak said. “It's a double-athletic scholarship. I don't think I will have a problem doing both.”
Blinn, who is headed to Division III Allegheny College, leads the team with 35 RBI and is hitting .500 (30 for 60). She is the reigning Valley News Dispatch Softball Player of the Year.
Blinn has struck out only once all season.
“Hannah has the ability to keep everyone calm without yelling or getting flustered,” Lubick said. “We all try to be natural leaders.”
Babincak is the vocal leader, while Blinn takes the more low-key, talk-you-through-it approach.
“I like to talk to the younger girls before we play and calm everyone down,” Blinn said. “The girls says I am the mother of the team.
“You see some of the younger girls with their heads down, and you have to tell them to pick it up. We have to keep our focus up all the time.”
If the team kept track of smiles, Crawford clearly would lead. She takes a lighter approach to the game but can be intense during key moments.
“I'm way too nice to be mean,” said Crawford, who has scored 18 runs.
Crawford and freshman Rachel Tanilli also are cheerleaders at Deer Lakes. Crawford has been known to do a backflip or two on the outfield.
She said the key to Thursday's title game is figuring out the motion and timing of Riverside star pitcher Kirsten Wilson.
“Once we're on her, we're on her,” Crawford said of opposing pitchers. “I think we'll be fine if we stay level-headed and focused.”
Lubick, who has 13 RBI this season, had a key, two-run single in the seventh to send last year's championship to extra innings before the Lancers edged Greensburg Central Catholic, 3-2, in eight innings.
“We're a confident team,” Lubick said. “But we're aware of the situation. We know we can be out at any moment. We're not cocky. We just know how we can play.”