Deer Lakes softball turns attention toward 2014 season
It was a simple, yet telling moment late Saturday afternoon.
A group hug — initiated by the sudden realization that the season finally was over — took place off to the side, under a tree on the Bedford High School campus.
After a 3-1 loss to Philipsburg-Osceola in the Class AA state quarterfinals, Deer Lakes softball's four senior captains and their coach huddled-up to soak in the final seconds before boarding the team bus one last time together.
“I'm gonna miss 'em,” coach Craig Taliani said, tears hidden behind his sunglasses. “They were four good ones.”
Deer Lakes won the WPIAL championship last season and lost just two seniors to graduation. Losing four this time will make it tougher on a team that finished second in the WPIAL and once again reached the PIAA quarterfinals before finishing 19-2.
“Next year, we want to keep it going and get back to states,” sophomore pitcher Tiffany Edwards said. “We'll need someone to step up for sure.”
Five starters will return, although the graduation of leadoff hitter and vocal leader Becca Babincak, catcher and offensive threat Hannah Blinn and steady-as-they-go players Leanne Crawford and Courtney Lubick will be felt.
“Next year's team is still going to be good,” Blinn said. “I think the younger girls learned a lot.”
Deer Lakes' encore season wasn't as fruitful, but it kept pace with last year. The Lancers averaged more than 11 runs per game and hit with authority. A resistant defense behind Edwards helped to push the team forward.
Some thought this year's group would be better than last year's 20-2 one, but that will have to remain a what-if debate.
It will give the 2014 Lancers goals.
“We're still going to be young,” Taliani said. “We'll only have one senior, and that'll be CiCi (Sierra Sarver).”
The power-hitting Sarver, a first baseman who is getting Division I and II college attention, will lead a team that also will return junior second baseman Katie Gozzard, the team's leading hitter in the playoffs, and Edwards, the crafty ace who showed she could overcome adversity in starts.
Gozzard, Edwards and Sarver hit 2-3-4 in the lineup.
Center fielder Maureen Hutchinson showed plenty of promise and will return as a sophomore. Versatile right fielder Rachel Tanilli also had a strong freshman year as the No. 9 hitter, and Sarah Blinn, who filled mainly a defense-only role at third, will be another key sophomore.
“We're going to have four open spots,” Taliani said. “Other girls are going to have to step up. We need girls to continue to put in the time for us to continue to be successful.”
The bar continues to be raised for local softball. Thanks to Deer Lakes, Valley and Burrell, this area is expected to compete for titles.
A-K Valley teams have won four of the past seven WPIAL titles in Class AA.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.