Young Deer Lakes softball team not taking anything for granted

Friday, April 12, 2019 | 6:30 PM

Katrina Taliani batted in the final inning of a PIAA quarterfinal game two seasons ago, one of the youngest players on a veteran-laden Deer Lakes softball team.

Two seasons later, she is the lone senior on the Lancers, hoping to bring the program back to its recent heights.

“It’s been an adjustment,” Taliani said. “Every team every year is so different, so this year it was really just finding what works, what doesn’t, what do I need to change about how I play or how I lead. That’s been a really good thing.”

Deer Lakes’ softball dominance stands at nearly a decade: The Lancers qualified for the playoffs every season since 2011, won six consecutive section titles from 2012-17 and appeared in five WPIAL championship games, winning two, and one PIAA title game.

But after a rare down season in 2018 — finishing 5-8 overall and falling in the first round of the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs — the Lancers are seeking a bounce-back with what coach Craig Taliani calls the youngest team in his 16 seasons as coach.

Deer Lakes (3-6, 3-1 Section 1-3A) starts four freshmen and a sophomore, and with that comes the mistakes that often follow inexperienced teams.

“It was very rare for a freshman to get in the starting lineup (in the past) — maybe one a year,” Craig Taliani said. “This is a young squad. They’re eager to learn, they’re eager to please, and they’re working hard.

“We can’t take anything for granted.”

The good is manifesting in flashes — an eight-run fifth inning that secured a 16-6 win over Valley on Monday, a shutout of East Allegheny, a strong win over Derry.

The trick is finding consistency: the Lancers took a six-run lead over rival Burrell in the first inning Wednesday and led by multiple runs throughout the game, but Burrell rallied and won 13-12 on a walk-off homer with two outs in the seventh inning.

“We talked about the difference between playing well and competing well,” Craig Taliani said. “I told the girls I thought we competed well. You guys hung in there. You answered with runs when you needed to.

“As far as playing well, at least five errors on the board, that’s not playing well. That’s putting yourself in a tough situation, so that’s something we identified that we need to work on.”

An early-season trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the Lancers played nine games between varsity and junior varsity, helped them create strong relationships off the field and create chemistry on it.

“Going to a small school, you kind of know everyone, but when you have so many starting freshmen, you need to get to know one another,” junior Marleen Meyer said. “I feel like I know all of them, and I feel like they’re all kind of my sisters.

“We haven’t been playing together that long to even really feel that way, but I feel like all of them always have my back and I always have theirs.”

The opportunity to compete for another section title and another deep playoff run remains squarely in front of the Lancers, who have one game remaining in their first-half section schedule — Friday’s game against first-place Freeport was rained out — and a chance to make hay in the second half.

“I know every team is coming at the second half ready to go,” Katrina Taliani said. “It’s go time 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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