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Column: Deer Lakes' future looks a little brighter

| Wednesday, April 4, 2007

It's 130 days until the official start of high school football, but new Deer Lakes coach Todd Hazlett is eager to go.

Hazlett, named to replace Denny Fedigan on Jan. 15, is a 1991 graduate of Deer Lakes and has selected his staff of assistants for the 2007 campaign.

First assistant and defensive coordinator for the Lancers will be Mike Leasure. Frank Piccolini will coach both the offensive and defensive lines, while Chuck Bellisario will handle the linebackers and running backs.

Mike Zourelias will handle the special teams, while Tom Crawford, a holdover from the former regime, will coach the ninth-grade team and will be assisted by Tom Wisniewski.

Turnout always is an issue when a program has had 11 consecutive losing seasons, but Hazlett is hoping for good numbers in an effort to turn around the team's fortunes. Numbers, however, appear to be a strength in the younger grades as 25 freshmen are signed up and 24 more will be on the seventh- and eighth-grade teams. There reportedly is an equal number of players expected for the same age group with the West Deer Braves youth program.

Expected back for the Lancers is running back Brian Becker, who showed plenty of promise as a sophomore in 2005 with 738 yards rushing. Becker missed the 2006 season with a knee injury. Also returning is Matt Latronica, who took over quarterbacking duties early in 2005 and scored the winning touchdown in the Lancers' last victory of '06, a 20-14 decision over Farrell.

The schedule-maker didn't do Hazlett any favors as he will make his varsity debut at one of the toughest places to play in the WPIAL, Kittanning's Red Ullom Field, on Aug. 31.

Baseball rules changes

Not many rule changes took place during the high school baseball offseason.

One rule that will be enforced concerns free-lancing around the coach's box.

Now, a player or coach occupying the coach's box "shall remain there upon the batter entering the batter's box until release of the pitch by the pitcher if requested by the opposing coach."

Once the request is made, it applies to both teams for the remainder of the game.

Malicious contact vs. incidental contact also will be emphasized in an effort to prevent player injuries. Umpires now have the latitude to determine whether a collision is of a malicious nature.

Most collisions occur at home plate when a runner is trying to dislodge the ball from the catcher, though offensive or defensive players can be ejected if the umpire feels malicious contact has occurred.

According to the National Federation rule book, "Malicious contact is defined as (1) the contact is the result of excessive force or (2) there is intent to injure." Umpires also have been instructed to be aware of situations "he may find himself in."

In more cosmetic changes, players warming up in an unprotected area must have another player with a glove protect those warming up from batted or overthrown balls.

Additionally, players and coaches can now wear uniform patches commemorating milestones or special occasions if the patches do not exceed four square inches.

Sibling victories

It's highly unusual when siblings each celebrate their first varsity pitching victories on the same day.

But that's what happened last Friday at Burrell when junior Seth Napierkowski recorded his first pitching victory as the Bucs defeated East Allegheny. His sister, Tess, a freshman pitcher, was the pitcher of record in the Lady Bucs' softball victory over Butler.

What's more, both pitching victories came in relief.

George Guido is a Valley News Dispatch scholastic sports correspondent. His column appears Wednesdays.

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