Valley News Dispatch Softball All-Stars: Deer Lakes' Katelynn Blair receives top honor
At age 14, Katelynn Blair began helping her father with his work as a Springdale Borough volunteer firefighter. Her younger sister Makayla joins them now.
Although she can't fight fires until she reaches 18 and passes certification classes, the firefighters' bravery isn't lost on the Deer Lakes junior.
“I've seen some interesting fire calls,” said Blair, who plans to take the necessary courses once she turns 18. “It's nice to be able to see those firefighters storm into a burning home and not even think twice about it. I hope to be like them one day.”
Blair's role for Deer Lakes in 2017 flies in the face of her future path, as she set plenty of fires with her bat. Blair batted a team-high .672 with 17 doubles, nine home runs and 38 RBIs, helping the Lancers reach the WPIAL Class 4A championship game and PIAA quarterfinals. Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani labeled it potentially the best offensive season he witnessed, no small statement given the Lancers' run of recent hitters.
Blair now earns Valley News Dispatch Player of the Year honors, edging out teammate Danielle Huffman and Freeport's Kristie Radvan. She's the third consecutive Lancer to win the award.
How do you feel about the season?
I'm very proud of the team and how successful we are because with us losing all the great past seniors we had, we knew it was going to be a challenge. But we came out strong, and I'm really proud of the team.
What's the biggest thing that sticks out about this team?
How strong we were offensively. I was really impressed, and I was actually surprised myself with how strong everybody was. Everyone in the order hit the ball and put the ball in play, and that's really impressive.
A lot of good hitters on Deer Lakes. Who's the best one?
The best player overall, I don't think there's anyone because we all offensively succeeded in different areas. I don't think in general we had the best offensive player. We all were great hitters. We showed it in different ways.
Any games that are especially memorable for you?
My favorite was when we played Freeport at home and my sister (Makayla) had her first home run, which I think gave us the lead. I was just so proud of her, and watching her round third and come hit home, that's a memory I'll never forget.
Coach Taliani said you had one of the best seasons offensively he's seen in his time as coach. What does that mean to you?
I actually set myself a goal this year; that's what I wanted to happen. I'm happy I did that, but now I want to stay up there next year. So now I need to work even harder and hopefully maintain and keep my goal I want to keep.
What did you do to prepare for this year?
I was practicing almost every day throughout the whole fall and winter because I was determined to have a great season. I wanted to so badly.
What did you improve at the most?
During playoffs my freshman year my batting stance was changed a little bit, and ever since then I struggled because I wasn't comfortable with it, but I just couldn't find the right stance. After last year's season, during my whole travel ball season, I was finding what batting stance fit me, and fortunately I found it back in August and worked at it. I think it's helped me.
Are there any areas you still want to improve?
I want to work at consistency with batting and hitting more line drives, and obviously with defense I want to be able to make no errors at first base, hopefully, next year.
Who's the toughest pitcher you faced?
Probably that Skyla Greco from Ellwood City (in the WPIAL championship game). She was a great pitcher.
What's your best coach Taliani story?
The practice before (PIAA first round), with my new tagging method at first base, how he reacted to my tag (by falling over). That's my favorite memory.
What's it like playing with younger sister Makayla?
It's a true blessing because Makayla and I started softball on the same team, so for us to continue being on the same team is such a blessing. I know there's not many players out there who can say they've played with their sister from the start, and I'm truly grateful for it, how the season turned out.
Have you ever fought on the field with her?
I think we had one in travel ball with my pitching and her catching. We didn't see eye to eye about how things were turning out. It's just a few words we exchange, and then we're done. We move on. We don't hang on to the past.
Do you follow higher levels of softball?
I watch the women's College World Series because watching that, that teaches me so much. I feel that's equivalent to me actually having a practice because I learn so much from watching those girls.
Are you planning on playing college softball?
I plan to, yes. I have some leads. I've been talking with the coaches since the winter, and I'm doing visits now. Hopefully, I'll know for sure before school starts.
Three words you would use to describe yourself?
Confident, but not in an arrogant way, passionate and analytical.
Last movie you saw?
“The Shack.” I loved it. It actually made me cry because it opened up a new perspective in my religious beliefs, and I loved it. I think it's helped me turn closer toward God after seeing it.
Any superstitions for softball?
How about anyone else on the team?
The only thing I can think of is Brittany Dengler; on the bus rides to away games, we have to sit in the exact same seat that we sat in Day 1. (I sit) across from her. She sat in Seat 18 because her number was 18, so I had to sit in Seat 17. My sister had to sit in Seat 20, and I don't remember anyone else.
Have you always worn No. 25?
I have not. My number I've always had through softball was No. 4, but when I came to the high school team, that wasn't an option. They said 25 was an option, and I was born on Feb. 25, so that's why I picked No. 25. My sister was born on Sept. 25, too, so that's a special number for us.
Is there anything people should know about you that they'd find surprising?
My favorite food is bran flakes. I have my routine. Every single night — it has to be past 7:00, first of all — I get my biggest bowl I can find, I make my bran flakes, I pour my milk into it, and I let it soak for about five to 10 minutes so the flakes get nice and soft. Once it's ready, I grab my (chihuahua) because she loves bran flakes, and she sits on my lap and we eat bran flakes every single night.
You even liked bran flakes when you were little?
Ever since I was a little kid. My mom says she thinks the reason is when she was pregnant with me, she would eat Raisin Bran every morning. But I don't like the raisins; I like the bran flakes plain.
Valley News Dispatch softball all-stars
Deer Lakes, Fr., C
Blair stepped in as a starter from Day 1 and batted .469 with 22 RBIs. She came on strong in the playoffs with five extra-base hits.
Apollo-Ridge, So., P
The former all-section outfielder shined after moving to the circle, posting a 9-4 record and 67 strikeouts for a playoff qualifier. She stayed strong at the plate with a .625 average, three homers and 23 RBIs.
Freeport, So., CF
One of several big bats in the Yellowjackets' lineup, DeJidas hit a team-high .625 with four homers and 17 RBIs. The fleet-footed outfielder also ran down many would-be hits.
Burrell, Jr., SS/P
Burrell's cleanup hitter batted .519 with a homer, six doubles and a team-high 25 RBIs. She pitched the Bucs to within an inning of a WPIAL playoff upset of eventual champ Ellwood City.
Deer Lakes, Jr., SS
Batting cleanup in Deer Lakes' powerful lineup, she hit .607 with eight homers and 36 RBIs, helping the Lancers reach the WPIAL title game and PIAA quarterfinals.
Kiski Area, Fr., SS
One of several young stars to help the Cavaliers reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010, she hit a team-high .567 with nine doubles, 16 RBIs and 28 runs scored. In 64 plate appearances, she didn't strike out once.
Leechburg, Jr., P
Pierce pitched Leechburg to the WPIAL semifinals for first time since 2010, compiling a 14-4 record and more than 110 strikeouts. She also hit .519 with 12 doubles and 20 RBIs.
Freeport, Sr., P
The Pitt-Johnstown recruit shined in the circle and at the plate for the WPIAL quarterfinalists, hitting .622 with six homers, eight doubles and 23 RBIs and finishing 9-3 with a 1.85 ERA and 61 strikeouts.
St. Joseph, Jr., P/SS
She helped the Spartans reach the playoffs — and win a postseason game — for first time in school history, hitting .591 with 10 doubles, three triples and 19 RBIs and posting a 3-3 record in the circle.
Leechburg, Sr., SS
The last of three Young sisters at Leechburg, the Carlow recruit led the WPIAL semifinalists with a .571 batting average and 30 runs scored, plus eight doubles and 15 RBIs while providing a stabilizing force in the middle infield.
Alivia Acierno, Riverview, Jr., SS
Brooke Blumer, Leechburg, Sr., 3B
Emily Cochran, Highlands, Jr., P
Claire Crytzer, Freeport, Jr., SS
Brittany Dengler, Deer Lakes, Sr., 3B
Teresa DeSimone, Apollo-Ridge, Jr., OF
Serena Edgar, St. Joseph, Jr., IF
Alexa Nagy, Kiski Area, So., 1B
Tori Radvan, Freeport, Fr., 3B
Alaina York, Burrell, Sr., OF