The comments emanating from the Deer Lakes camp in the wake of its 3-0 win over Fairview in the PIAA Class AA softball first round were innocent enough.
And considering this was only Deer Lakes’ second venture into the playoff tournament, the words were spoken without the benefit of much institutional memory.
No matter. They bugged Philipsburg-Osceola, their quarterfinal opponent and that’s never a good idea.
And the Lady Mounties, who are owners of a pair of PIAA titles since 2007, and a long and proud tradition, used the comments to provide a little extra incentive, not that a berth in the PIAA semifinals wasn’t motivation enough.
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Backtracking a little, Deer Lakes lost to Riverside 5-1 in the WPIAL finals and it was itching for a rematch. Perhaps a little too much, since it had another itch that needed scratching before it got another shot at Riverside.
“I’m sure we’d come out with so much fire if we played them again,” said Leanne Crawford, Deer Lakes outfielder in an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We can’t be cocky.”
“I don’t think we’re thinking about (Riverside) as much as we just really want to get out of the second round,” added catcher Hannah Blinn.
By themselves the comments are hardly bulletin board material but what rankled the Lady Mounties is that they were only mentioned once in the article that focused on the potential rematch of the WPIAL finals and paid no attention to Saturday’s quarterfinal game.
“It fueled us,” said P-O catcher Carly Gonder in the wake of the Lady Mounties’ 3-1 win. “We don’t like it when people overlook us. I guess we were confused how they didn’t understand the Mountie tradition. We just wanted to show them who we are. I guess we did.”
The fact that the game was postponed twice from its original date only gave P-O more time to ruminate on the story and its message.
“We found out about it Thursday, the day we were supposed to play them,” Gonder added. “And it did fuel us. I don’t know if we would have come into this game with as much intensity if we didn’t know they didn’t think we had a chance. And they are a good team.”
But one of the benefits of having worn a path on the PIAA trail over the years is understanding the dangers of a misspoken word and the inflammatory effect it can have. P-O coach Jim Gonder, a veteran of the softball wars, counsels his teams on the subject.
“It bothered us a little bit,” he said of the story. “We talk to our kids about how to talk to the press, to be very complimentary of opponents. That’s the way it should be. And I understand it (a game with Riverside) is a WPIAL rivalry. They were excited to have a chance to play that again. I’m OK with it.
“But it was a little bit of a motivator and as far as I’m concerned, motivation from anywhere is a good thing. Home cooking is my motivation.”
Mountie pitcher Kate Burge who, like Carly Gonder graduated Friday evening, followed her coach’s advice to the letter.
“We don’t like to be cocky,” she said. “We like to prove ourselves in the game. We don’t like to talk smack on people. We like to show them what we can do in the game. When I see things like that I just try to take negative energy and turn it into positive energy. We do have a reputation and a good program. So it hits you a little hard when people are talking smack on you.
“Proving it on the field is the best way to go about it and beating them was the best way to show them that we are the Mounties and who we are. And doing what we did today shows them they shouldn’t say stuff like that.”
Further proof, if needed, is that it will be P-O that will be playing Riverside in the Western finals Monday at 4 p.m. at Brockway. No further comment is necessary.