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Deer Lakes Repeats As WPIAL 3A Boys Champions, Defeating Burrell

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Deer Lakes

Down the stretch of Friday night’s WPIAL Class 3A Boys Championship, Deer Lakes coach Albie Fletcher locked eyes with his team and pounded his chest.

He knew the game was going to be decided at the free-throw line, an Achilles heel for the Lancers this entire season but six crucial makes proved pivotal as the team chased a repeat of last year’s championship triumph.

Deer Lakes came into this game shooting in the low 50 percent range from the charity stripe but extended practices which exceeded three hours for situations such as this and it paid off.

“We keep talking about this, guys we won a WPIAL Championship at the free throw line,” Fletcher remarked. “That’s kind of surreal it’s been our Achilles heel all year. We extended our practices because we agreed we had to get better at the line. We tried every possible thing you could do under the sun, but they just kept grinding.”

Deer Lakes successfully defended its WPIAL Class 3A Boys Championship besting 11th seeded Burrell by a 55-49 score.

“That’s a great basketball game,” Aiden Fletcher explained. “A WPIAL championship against a hometown rival, that’s what high school basketball is all about and it creates a great environment for this kind of game. We’re fortunate to come out on the right side.”

The Lancers were paced by Billy Schaeffer’s 20 points and seven rebounds. Collin Rodgers recorded 12 points and Nathanial Moore had a steady presence on the boards, grabbing 16 rebounds.

Deer Lakes also enjoyed a 38-23 rebounding advantage, a 17-2 fast-break margin and 11-2 in second-chance points.

Burrell saw Macky Bennis bank in 17 points and both Joey Discello and Ryan Croushore also played pivotal roles in the Bucs attempt to complete their Cinderella story.

“We beat the six, two and three seeded teams, so I can’t say enough about them,” Burrell coach Mike Fantuzzo offered. “They battled and they fought and they beat the odds. We were there at the very end of the game. Even though we lost, we still have a lot of positive things to feed off.”

The first quarter involved both sides feeling the other out with each side matching each other basket for basket. Schaeffer’s two baskets were matched by Discello’s midrange efforts and the sides were knotted at eight after eight minutes.

Burrell took command early in the second quarter benefitting from three and-one plays. Croushore was subbed in and promptly converted two such plays and Discello had the third as the Bucs went on a 9-0 run and activated a Deer Lakes timeout.

The run was obtained by penetrating, ducking in and gaining position to achieve layups.

After the stoppage, it was clear that the Lancers made an adjustment, capitalizing on multiple Burrell miscues, which catapulted into a 13-0, much to the delight of a vocal Deer Lakes student section.

“We were able to get out in transition more,” Albie Fletcher determined. “We had some opportunities in the first, I just don’t think we were clean with our rebounds. We were off a bit in our transition and that’s a big part with what we do. We went out, got a couple of buckets, a couple of key rebounds, get down the floor and opened the game up to the pace we wanted to play at.”

It was Deer Lakes experience in close games which served the team well, combined with a matched mentality.

“We have it in our minds that we’re going to come out and win this game,” said Schaeffer. “No matter how much we’re down by, no matter the deficit, we’re going to win the game, that’s our mentality.”

Burrell was held scoreless for the final 4:35 of the first half and Moore’s presence on the boards was felt through the opening half with his 10 rebounds, allowing the Lancers to control play.

Deer Lakes led 21-17 at halftime.

Both sides experienced a high-powered third quarter, combining for 45 points. Bennis in particular broke through with 11 points, converting his last five shots in the frame.

Despite the high scoring, not much changed on the scoreboard, with the Lancers leading 43-40 after 24 minutes.

Deer Lakes was 2-for-12 from the field in the fourth quarter, but locked in defensively to secure the victory. Burrell had several shots to tie the game but those looks were off the mark.

A large part of that can be attributed to Deer Lakes’s defensive intensity which made it hard for the Bucs to find shots down the stretch.

“These guys played one whale of a defensive basketball game,” Albie Fletcher smiled. ” (They) did a great job on the glass and that was the goal. We wanted to deny their good players and make them earn every basket they got. We were in and out of a lot of different defenses and rotated really well. They executed and put on a show defensively, so I’m very proud of them.”

The last of which game off Maliq Buchak’s hands for a corner three-point shot, but the shot fell off the mark and the Lancers calmly rebounded the shot, sank to free throws and secured the victory.

After the victory was secured, Fletcher recalled the exit meetings following last year’s successful season and how every player down to the last on the JV squad set the goal of repeating.

“‘We’re doing it again’,”, he remembered them stating. “Starting off the year our goal was simple, we’re going to win the section, win this again and go back to Hershey…. We’ve got two down and one to go. With the work these guys did in the offseason, I absolutely thought we could get back this year for sure.”

Deer Lakes/Burrell VIDEOS

 

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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