Deer Lakes girls eager to bounce back at PIAAs
Deer Lakes senior shortstop Becca Babincak sat in the grass behind her team's dugout Thursday, a dazed look on her face but no tears.
“It's hard to believe we lost; we ended up on the wrong side of it,” Babincak said after top-seeded and defending champion Deer Lakes (18-1) suffered its first defeat of the season, 5-1, to No. 3 Riverside (19-0) in the WPIAL Class AA title game at California (Pa.)'s Lilley Field.
Now there is a new focus for a team that had its crown taken away.
“We have a huge opportunity now,” Babincak said. “In baseball and softball, winning states is bigger than WPIALs. We know what we have to do.”
Deer Lakes will look to start a new postseason run when the Lancers open the PIAA playoffs against three-time defending District 10 champion Fairview (22-0) on Monday at 5 p.m. at Penn State Behrend.
Last year, Deer Lakes reached the state quarterfinals before falling to Martinsburg Central, 4-2.
Deer Lakes should be motivated after Thursday's title-game loss, in which it committed an uncharacteristic four errors and help Riverside score four unearned runs.
“We better be,” Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. “Our four seniors don't want it to be over.
“Maybe we'll see (Riverside pitcher Kirsten Wilson) again down the road.”
A fire-baller who leads the WPIAL in strikeouts, Wilson fanned 11 Lancers and allowed just three hits. No pitcher and defensive combination from the WPIAL had been able to silence heavy-hitting Deer Lakes in 24 straight games.
Riverside right fielder Andrea Lippman made a potential home-run-saving catch when Deer Lakes first baseman Sierra Sarver took Wilson deep to right-center with a runner on in the sixth inning.
A two-run shot there would have tied it, 3-3. Instead, the offense sputtered, and Deer Lakes had to wonder what might have been.
“This hurts,” Taliani said. “The girls sold themselves short. It will bother us for 24 hours, but we'll get back at it.”
Deer Lakes can look at a former opponent's recharged playoff run as a postseason guide. Neshannock, which dropped down in classification and won the WPIAL Class A title, was undefeated when it faced Deer Lakes in last year's WPIAL Class AA semfinals.
Deer Lakes won, 2-0, at North Allegheny. Neshannock not only regrouped quickly, but it did not lose again, running the table in the state bracket and winning the PIAA title.
“When we lost to Deer Lakes, we had won 19 in a row,” Neshannock coach Tracy Kimmel said. “We knew that day was coming. We went and ate after that game and talked about what we needed to do. We just had to start a new streak.”
Kimmel said championship-caliber teams always seem to show resilience.
“We had a young team last year,” Kimmel said. “It's amazing how the pressure doesn't get to them.”
Valley did the same in 2011. After it lost to Ambridge in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals, it won five straight to claim the state crown.
Deer Lakes has the potential to do the same.
“It would be amazing to be celebrating up at Penn State,” senior Leanne Crawford said. “We have to get back to playing our game.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.