Blair’s walk-off home run lifts Deer Lakes past Freeport in Section 1-3A

Thursday, April 18, 2019 | 8:14 PM

Makayla Blair felt frustrated, and her Deer Lakes teammates were angry after they saw a late lead slip away against a rival for the second time in just over a week.

But this time, the Lancers had the final at-bat — and one big swing from Blair completely changed their emotions.

Blair launched a three-run home run over the left-field fence with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving Deer Lakes an exhilarating 7-4 win over No. 4 Freeport on Thursday in a battle for first place in Section 1-3A.

“I could not hit for my first three at-bats, but I (was) like, I’m going to do something for the team this time,” said Blair, who fouled out twice and flew out once in her first three trips to the plate against Freeport’s Tori Radvan before connecting on a changeup for her first career walk-off. “I just swung with the pitch I liked and went with it.

“It honestly feels really good, but I give it to the team. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Deer Lakes (5-6, 5-1) moved into sole possession of first place in the section, a half-game ahead of Burrell (6-2, 4-1) and one ahead of defending champion Freeport (6-2, 4-2).

For the young Lancers, who began the season with five consecutive losses in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Thursday’s win represented a big breakthrough. And it came just over a week after they lost on a walk-off homer against Burrell, a game in which they led by six runs early.

So when Freeport tied the game with two runs in the top of the seventh, it had the appearance of deja vu for Deer Lakes. Instead, the Lancers responded.

“It’s not easy to come back on any team, let alone a good team like Freeport,” Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. “But our girls really kept their heads together. They didn’t drop their chins. They had a little more anger in them than feel-bad, and I’ll take that any day.”

Freeport instead found itself in an eerily similar situation — the Yellowjackets also lost on a walk-off homer Wednesday against Burrell.

“Softball’s a quick, fast game, and it can change on a dime,” Freeport coach Sam Ross said. “We’ve been on that end of it before, and we’ve been on this end before. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.”

Maura Cerra led off the bottom of the seventh with a single, and Katrina Taliani reached when her sacrifice bunt wasn’t fielded cleanly. Hannah Mass grounded into a fielder’s choice, forcing Cerra at third and setting the stage for Blair.

“We’re tired of (walk-offs) happening to us,” Blair said. “It just feels good to be on the other end of it.”

Deer Lakes grabbed an early advantage in the first inning when Cerra roped a leadoff double to left and scored on a Freeport error, but the Yellowjackets tied it in the second after Maddie Wagner and Anna Herbst led off with singles and Wagner scored on a Deer Lakes error.

Back-to-back doubles by Radvan and Autumn Powell with one out in the third gave Freeport a 2-1 lead, but Deer Lakes answered with three in the fourth. Marleen Meyer and Taliani had run-scoring singles, and another run came in on a Freeport error.

A two-base error with one out in the seventh gave Freeport life, and the Yellowjackets took advantage. Ally DeJidas doubled in a run, Radvan was intentionally walked and both advanced a base on a wild pitch. Powell delivered a sacrifice fly to right, but Meyer retired Wagner on a ground ball to end the inning.

“I thought the girls played well,” Ross said. “I thought the way they came back and tied them … when it’s their home game, they get the last at-bat. That’s the way it goes.”

Meyer pitched a complete game for Deer Lakes, allowing one earned run and striking out three. Radvan pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowing seven runs — three earned — and striking out five. Deer Lakes committed three errors and Freeport four.

The teams will have the weekend off before returning to section play next week.

“The girls showed some real resiliency and some fight and some character,” Craig Taliani said. “I can’t be any more proud of this team than I am right now.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .

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