Clutch performances fuel Deer Lakes’ run to PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals

Thursday, March 14, 2019 | 8:26 PM

The fourth quarter began poorly for Jared Colton in Deer Lakes’ PIAA Class 3A playoff game Wednesday against Forest Hills. Two quick turnovers, followed by two out-of-rhythm missed shots, spurred a quick meeting between the Lancers’ senior guard and coach Terence Parham.

Parham delivered a short message: Keep shooting. And then Colton delivered himself, scoring eight points in the quarter to help Deer Lakes earn a 50-46 win and move on to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history.

“Coach Parham just told me to keep shooting, that he knows that I can play whenever I decide to actually put it in that bucket,” Colton said Thursday, a bit wryly. “He just instilled that confidence in me, and my teammates, too. They just said, just keep shooting, it’s going to fall, and that’s what we did.”

The power of positive thinking carries Deer Lakes, which will play District 10 champion Sharon in the PIAA quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Saturday at Slippery Rock. That positivity shows up most in the biggest moments, in close and late games.

Simply put, the Lancers excel during winning time — i.e., the fourth quarter and beyond. A pair of four-point wins in the first round of the state playoffs — Wednesday’s win and a 56-52 overtime triumph over Brookville in the first round — gave Deer Lakes nine wins in 11 games decided by single-digit margins this season.

“We had some tough battles in the fourth quarter of pretty much all of our section games, and even some of our out-of-section games,” senior guard Brad Perrotte said. “That really helped prepare. We kind of turn it on. Every time we fall down in a game, we always say to each other, we’ve been here before, and we believe that.”

No two games look the same, but Deer Lakes keeps finding a way to win the close ones. Against Brookville, the Lancers scored all nine of their points in overtime from the free-throw line. Against Forest Hills, Colton hit some big shots, the defense made big stops and Perrotte and Colton both made their free throws.

“They just really seem to truly lock in in the fourth,” Parham said. “As a coach, that’s really pleasing to know these guys, no matter if the other team came off a big run or if we had a big run, they’re saying, just stay in the moment. They know it’s a game of runs, so we can’t get too high or too low.”

Parham, in his fourth season as coach, instills that mentality during practices, which Colton says tend to be even more difficult than the games.

Perrotte also credited the team’s unselfishness; the senior leads Deer Lakes in scoring, but he said every player has confidence in all of his teammates. Parham pointed to a key shot by reserve Josh Darsie against Forest Hills as an example.

“We uplift each other,” Colton said. “We’re a good team this year. That’s what I think separates us from last year’s team. We’re closer, and we play better together. We’re just more a unit.”

That close-knit relationship extends to the greater Deer Lakes community. The Lancers continue to make school history — the first outright section championship since 1992, the first WPIAL playoff win since 1985, and the first two PIAA playoff wins in school history — feeding off a frenzied fan base.

The Deer Lakes boys soccer team made a similar run in the fall, making it all the way to the PIAA Class AA championship game despite the school never before playing in the state playoffs.

“State playoffs haven’t really been a normal occurrence for Deer Lakes, and we’re representing not only Deer Lakes but the A-K Valley, too,” Colton said. “We’ve got a lot of people behind us in our corner, and it’s just really exciting.”

Sharon, a PIAA Class 4A runner-up last season, holds the edge in experience over Deer Lakes. With 6-foot-8 forward Ethan Porterfield, an IUP recruit, the Tigers pose a matchup threat as well.

But Deer Lakes feels familiar with challenges. And the Lancers believe they have what it takes to win, especially if it’s there for the taking in the fourth quarter.

“We never really give up,” junior Jack Hollibaugh said. “We just go all out till the last buzzer.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .


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