Deer Lakes softball hopes to get back on track this season

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Sunday, March 10, 2019 | 10:52 PM


The Deer Lakes softball team was denied a seventh straight section title last spring and suffered a WPIAL first-round exit, an uncharacteristically early exit for the Lancers after advancing to the WPIAL title game five times in the previous six seasons.

But veteran coach Craig Taliani said his team improved last season. Deer Lakes finished 5-8 overall and 4-6 in Section 1-3A, in a rebuilding year after losing more than half of the lineup from a 2017 WPIAL finalist and PIAA quarterfinalist squad.

“The record wasn’t what we wanted it to be, but I think we played our best softball as the season went on,” Taliani said. “We had a steady core of girls working since the fall. I feel we put in more time this offseason than any year before. They’ve really dedicated themselves to having a good season. There are high hopes.”

The foundation will be set during a trip to the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Taliani said with such a young team — there’s only one senior and seven freshmen — the trip will allow players ample opportunity to show what they can do.

“We can’t afford to wait to play games,” Taliani said. “Last year, we didn’t play our first game until (April 6). We played 10 section games and only one or two nonsection games. We need to get these girls on the field and see them perform. We’re excited to get down there. We have a pretty aggressive schedule, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Deer Lakes went to the Ripken Experience in 2015 and ’16. The Lancers went 4-1 during the ’16 trip, and the only loss, a 7-6 result, came to West Greene, which won the WPIAL Class A title and finished as PIAA runner-up.

“We’ve played some really good teams in those trips, and we expect to do the same this year,” Taliani said.

The only player remaining from that trip is senior outfielder Katrina Taliani.

“Katrina has been a really good leader for the younger girls,” coach Taliani said. “A couple of years ago, she saw the older girls accomplish a lot and saw what they did to achieve their goals. They taught her what needs to be done to build a team. This is a great opportunity for her.”

Katrina Taliani said she’s ready to see this team make its mark.

“So far, everything is coming together more than expected,” she said. “It’s exciting to see some of the fresh faces come in and show what they have to offer. We’re going to count on the freshmen.

“There was definitely a lot of enthusiasm in the offseason knowing there would be opportunities available in the lineup. Girls would come in every day with a lot of energy ready to put in the work. You could tell they were going to bring that energy to the season.”

Junior Marlene Meyer returns to the pitch for the Lancers after logging the most innings last year.

Coach Taliani said he is excited to see continued improvement of returning starters in juniors Makayla Blair (catcher/infield), Maura Cerra (infield/outfield) and Sarah Danner (infield) and sophomore Hanna Mass (infield).

Deer Lakes returns to Section 1-3A and again will face defending section champ Freeport and playoff qualifier Burrell as well as Valley and East Allegheny.

Derry and South Allegheny, a playoff qualifier from the section last year, are new to the section.

“As usual, we’ll have our work cut out for us in the section,” coach Taliani said. “There are some great hitting teams with some strong pitchers. We’re going to have to have some strong pitching and hitting to stay in these games.

“We’re a young team, but the players are hungry. They want to be the next Deer Lakes team to make a run. We’re going to see how that all plays out.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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