Top-ranked Deer Lakes softball braces for Riverside ace Wilson
It's no secret that Deer Lakes' lineup, from top to bottom, can hit with accelerated force. Throw ping pong balls into a spinning ceiling fan — it's like that.
But the Lancers (18-0) haven't seen a pitcher quite like Riverside senior Kirsten Wilson, who will throw against them Thursday in the WPIAL Class AA championship game at California (Pa.) University.
Deer Lakes has a catch-phrase, “Zero Smoke,” which it had printed on T-shirts.
“It pumps us up; it's like, ‘You can't handle this,' ” Deer Lakes senior shortstop Becca Babincak said, explaining the phrase.
Problem is, Wilson throws smoke.
The 5-foot-10 hurler has struck out a WPIAL-best 213 and has 16 shutouts, including 11 in a row. She struck out 254 last season.
Wilson has allowed only six runs in 18 games.
In a moved-back-mound era where offense seems to rule the game, Wilson is showing a dominant pitcher still can take a team a long way.
“It's going to take patience at the plate,” Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. “We have to get (Wilson's) timing down.
“(As a team) you don't fear anyone, but you respect them. They're the real deal, a complete team.”
Deer Lakes hasn't been shut out in a game since May 1, 2012 (1-0 loss to Burrell). In fact, that's their only shutout loss in almost three seasons.
Wilson also can hit, which makes her doubly dangerous. She leads the Panthers with a .570 batting average and homered in a 4-0 win over No. 2 Chartiers-Houston in the semifinals.
Junior infielder Natalie Pritts also is an offensive threat for the Panthers (18-0). She is hitting .421 with 15 RBI.
“We know we can't make mistakes,” Deer Lakes sophomore pitcher Tiffany Edwards said. “We know not to swing at (Wilson's) rise balls.”
Last season, Deer Lakes first baseman Sierra “CiCi” Sarver was the title-game hero, ripping the game-winning single in a 3-2 win over Greensburg Central Catholic in eight innings.
Sarver enjoyed the dramatic finish — “People still ask me about it,” she said — but she hopes Thursday's game is well in control by the later innings.
“Hopefully there won't be a lot of stress on our pitcher and defense if we have that cushion,” Sarver said. “That's our goal.”
Deer Lakes cranked up its pitching machine during practice to simulate the hard-throwing Wilson.
The wheel was spinning and firing strikes at nearly 70 mph.
“The key for us is adjusting and figuring out her spots,” Sarver said. “We have to be patient and wait for our pitches.”
Deer Lakes was in a similar situation last season when it faced Greensburg Central fireballer Anne Marie Gatti, a Syracuse recruit who since transferred to Southmoreland.
Gatti took a no-hitter into the fifth, but Sarver singled to get Deer Lakes rolling.
Deer Lakes has won 24 straight games against WPIAL opponents.
Riverside has five WPIAL titles, the last in 2009.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.