Deer Lakes snags No. 2 seed for WPIAL softball tournament
For the most part, Section 3 softball drew favorably from the WPIAL — in the form of two of the top-5 seeds — when the Class AA playoff bracket came out Thursday.
The defending champions led the charge.
Deer Lakes' late-season surge — eight wins in nine games, many by double-figure margins, including a 10-run-rule win over Class AAA Indiana — earned the Lancers (15-4) the No. 2 seed. Their reestablishing of control in Section 3-AA apparently overshadowed two in-section losses, silenced doubters and put the Lancers back in good standing.
The team's past five playoff seeds: 2, 1, 2, 1 and 4.
Deer Lakes also won the championship in 2012 and has been in the finals at Cal (Pa.) the past four years.
The Lancers, state runners-up last season, will open against No. 15 Carmichaels (11-8) at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Hampton.
“We're very proud to be the No. 2 seed,” Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. “We put together a strong second half in the section and played several playoff teams in nonsection games that helped us to get that recognition.”
After an impressive four-year run, Taliani has learned to discount seedings and apply emphasis to short-term game-planning and self-appraisal.
Ellwood City (16-0) is the No. 1 seed in Class AA.
“We still have to play the games, and anything can happen in a one-game series,” he said. “The right side of the bracket is filled with strong pitching and good hitting. We will have our work cut out for us.”
Burrell (11-4) was awarded for its co-section title with Deer Lakes with a No. 5 seed, its best rating since it was No. 1 in 2011, when it won the WPIAL title.
No. 12 Steel Valley (12-5) awaits the Bucs in the first round at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Hampton, making for a local doubleheader. The WPIAL put Burrell and Freeport in back-to-back first-round games last year at Cal and drew an A-K-heavy crowd.
Freeport, the third Section 3 team, came in at the No. 11 seed, a significant drop from expectations after the Yellowjackets (12-4) had first place all to themselves early in Section 3 play. A 16-1 loss to Deer Lakes in the section finale and two losses to Burrell likely dropped Freeport's stock.
Freeport's opener is against No. 6 McGuffey in a rare night game, 7 p.m. Wednesday at Latrobe.
“I think the teams from Section 3 are going to make some noise on both sides of the bracket,” Taliani said. “Burrell and Freeport are strong all-around — pitching, hitting and defense. ... Anything can happen.”
In Class A, Leechburg (12-6) was tabbed the No. 10 seed and will face No. 7 Chartiers-Houston (11-7) at 4 p.m. Monday at Hampton. Leechburg is setting the record for consecutive WPIAL softball playoff appearances this season with its 30th trip.
“I think it looks like a pretty even matchup,” Leechburg coach Debbi Young said. “Our records are similar. We both have sophomore pitchers and a fairly young team. I'm excited for the girls. I think we will do fine if we come out hitting and stay positive. It can be anyone's game on any given day. We have the tools, we just have to use them.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor for the Valley News Dispatch edition of the Tribune-Review. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.