Ambridge rallies in 2nd half to top Deer Lakes in WPIAL Class 4A 1st round

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | 11:00 PM

The story of David and Goliath seemed an apt comparison for Deer Lakes' and Ambridge's boys basketball playoff game in a visual sense Wednesday, what with the Bridgers' sizable front line towering in comparison to Deer Lakes'. And for much of the first three quarters, the lower-seeded Lancers played their part well, scrapping their way to a seven-point second-half lead.

Alas, this time the favorite found the slingshot.

No. 6 Ambridge used a strong final two quarters to rally past Deer Lakes for a 62-56 victory in a WPIAL Class 4A first-round game at Fox Chapel.

“We left it out there on the court,” Deer Lakes coach Terence Parham said. “I don't think anyone can say that our team didn't compete. And I'm not big on moral victories, but I told the guys they competed, showed that not only do they belong but they had a chance to win that game, and we've got to build off that.”

Monterey Carpenter hit five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 21 points and Liam Buck added 20 for Ambridge (13-9), which outscored No. 11 Deer Lakes, 34-24, in the second half to deny the Lancers (12-10) their first playoff win since 1985.

A 13-2 run in the third quarter, which began after Deer Lakes took its biggest lead of the game at 35-28, gave Ambridge — the fourth-place team from the touted, rugged Section 2-4A — the lead for good.

“We've played a lot of not only tight games, but physical kinds of games like you saw tonight,” Ambridge coach Mark Jula said. “I think in the second half it showed that we've been in those tests.”

Ambridge, which advances to a WPIAL quarterfinal matchup against No. 3 Belle Vernon at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at West Allegheny, looked the part of a giant. The Bridgers' starting lineup included the 6-foot-7 Buck and 6-foot-6 Aaron Hilzendeger, who scored 13 points. Deer Lakes' tallest starter, Jack Hollibaugh, by comparison, stands 6-3.

“As soon as we came in, I'm like, Hudl did them no justice,” Parham said. “That team is big. They're so much bigger than they look on film in person.”

The Lancers expected a physical game and got one right from the opening tip. The start-of-game jump ball resulted in a re-jump as players from both teams crashed to the floor going for the loose ball. That set the tone for a rough-and-tumble game, with plenty of contact and not many free throws for either team.

The Bridgers' size allowed them to clog passing lanes, and their press didn't make things much easier. But Deer Lakes counteracted those disadvantages with cutting, extra passing and offensive rebounding. The Lancers took a 32-28 lead into halftime on Hollibaugh's tip-in at the first-half buzzer.

“I thought their kids busted their tail and made it relatively even on the boards,” Jula said. “But they struggled at the rim, and we made some good passes and finished.”

As much damage as Buck did in the paint, Carpenter and fellow guard Tay Lindsay provided perhaps the bigger punches. Carpenter hit two of his five 3-pointers in the third quarter as Ambridge took the lead for good, while Lindsay scored all eight of his points in the second half. The Bridgers converted a handful of fast breaks in the second half after Deer Lakes turnovers or missed shots.

“When he comes out of the gates like that, he gets us going,” Jula said of Carpenter. “It's nice when he's stroking.”

A 15-5 run to begin the fourth quarter gave Ambridge its biggest lead at 13 points before Deer Lakes made a late run. Jared Colton hit two of his four 3-pointers in the fourth for the Lancers, and a pair of free throws by Hollibaugh — who scored a team-high 15 points — made it a five-point game with 22 seconds remaining.

After a Hilzendeger free throw grew the lead back to six, Josh Solomon had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but his 3-point attempt was off the mark.

Colton joined Hollibaugh in double figures for Deer Lakes with 14 points.

“We still had a chance,” Parham said. “We've got to find a way, (and) I've got to find a way as a coach to put them in a better position to have more success late in the games to get us over this hump.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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