Coach Taliani behind Deer Lakes' softball success
TribLIVE Sports Videos
When Craig Taliani started coaching Deer Lakes softball in 2004, he had a team. On the eve of potential back-to-back WPIAL Class AA championships, the coach now can say he has a program.
“Coach T has so much heart,” senior shortstop Becca Babincak said. “He wants to win, and he wants what is best for us.”
Taliani celebrated his 47th birthday last Wednesday with a rally that saw his team score eight runs in the third inning to overcome a 7-0 deficit after a 93-minute weather delay and topple Beaver, 11-7, in the semifinals.
If all goes as planned, he'll celebrate another title late Thursday afternoon if the top-seeded Lancers (18-0) can get past No. 3 Riverside (18-0) at Cal U's Lilley Field.
Always an it's-not-about-me coach, Taliani is in his ninth season. He's led the team to seven playoff appearances and four section titles (2006, '09, '12 and '13).
“Craig has had a steady, calming effect on this team,” assistant coach John Yourish said. “He knows when to push them and knows when to back off. The team is always prepared for just about anything.”
Taliani said he was concerned mainly with hitting when he began his coaching career.
“It was just club it,” he said.
But that thinking has changed.
“As I've gotten older and learned more, I am more concerned with defense,” he said. “Defense makes it easier, but you need to score runs to win. We work on fundamentals and situations in practice probably 50-50.”
A more well-rounded coaching style and an influx of talent have propelled the Lancers into perennial-power territory.
“He always says each game is your championship,” senior catcher Hannah Blinn said. “He has a whole bunch of things that he tells us. He always says to treat the championship like a baby.”
A former Grove City High School assistant baseball and softball coach, Taliani has been a history teacher at Deer Lakes since 2003. As a player, he was a catcher and outfielder at Deer Lakes before playing on Pitt's freshman team, which later folded.
He then walked on at Indiana (Pa.) where he was redshirted and stopped playing after a year. Family members say he can still swing for the fences, prompting outfielders to back up at family softball games.
There is a small gap in Taliani's coaching tenure. He left the program in 2007 to help his parents, who lost their house in a fire. Deer Lakes hired former Springdale standout Erin Exler to replace Taliani, but she resigned after one season.
Who knows what might have happened for Taliani had the position not reopened?
“I wanted to come back,” he said.
Always part of a baseball family, Taliani and his brother started a Tri-County league after Taliani got out of college. The league lasted five years.
“We always loved to play,” Taliani said. “We were always around the game.”
Hands-down, Taliani's top influence is his father, Vince, who at 85 years old, still attends his son's games.
“And he also still referees volleyball,” Taliani said. “He is an amazing man. He taught me to never quit and always be competitive.”
A war veteran, Vince Taliani played baseball at West Deer High before a minor-league stint with the Philadelphia A's.
Vince's other son, Mark, also played baseball at Deer Lakes and Penn State New Kensington.
“He's another big influence,” Craig said.
Their mother, Irene, died in 2011.
Taliani and his wife, Lisa, have two daughters, and both are active on softball.
Maria is a freshman on this year's team, and Katrina is in sixth grade. Maria, who often is used as a courtesy runner, hit a home run off of Leechburg standout pitcher Kenzie Young this season.
“My wife ia a huge supporter of the program, and she's our No. 1 fan,” Craig said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.