Deer Lakes boys basketball ready for hot-shooting PIAA foe

Monday, March 20, 2023 | 5:56 PM

Following Saturday’s quarterfinal win over Neshannock, Deer Lakes boys basketball coach Albie Fletcher got in his car and drove to Armstrong to scout the two potential opponents in the semifinals.

What he saw was a tough, sharpshooting Penn Cambria team — which the Lancers met in the first round of states last year — prevail over Franklin.

The Lancers will face Penn Cambria in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hempfield. Both teams are in the state semifinals for the first time.

Fletcher took note of how the Panthers handled a Franklin team that had more size and how well it can shoot from beyond the arc.

“They’re a well-balanced team that loves to shoot the 3 ball, and they shoot it well,” Fletcher said. “They’re well-coached, and they play hard. One thing I was impressed with (Saturday) was how well their guards rebounded against a Franklin team that has a 6-foot-8 guy and two 6-5 guys. They really did a nice job rebounding even with that big gap in size. We’ll have to be physical with them to get rebounds, because a team that shoots like that, you don’t want to give them more than one opportunity.”

Along with seeing them in person, Fletcher said he briefly looked at the film of last year’s PIAA first-round game, which Penn Cambria won 66-63.

The Panthers led 22-6 at the end of the first quarter, but Deer Lakes clawed its way back and even took a brief lead.

A better start will be imperative Tuesday.

“At one point we got the lead and it came down to the last possession, but we definitely dug ourselves too big of a hole,” Fletcher said. “That’s something we always try to avoid. To me, great starts in the first half and second half are very important. At times this year we’ve started well and had some lulls in the third quarter, which he had to fix as we went on. Against a team this good with the way they can shoot it, if they get hot early you don’t want to see them get too big of an advantage. It’s going to be very important that we come out very focused and ready to play physical.”

The Panthers have beaten two WPIAL opponents, Yough and Steel Valley, during their state playoff run.

They are led by senior Garrett Harrold, who is a Duquesne football recruit. Harrold had a game-high 27 points in the win over Franklin and pulled down 14 rebounds.

Fletcher said Harrold presents a unique challenge because he can shoot from deep and score from the post.

“They’re very balanced and have a bunch of guys that can shoot it, but (Harrold) is their go-to guy for sure,” Fletcher said. “He has to be a point of emphasis. He can play inside and outside, which makes him tough to guard, but it’s not a team where you can focus on one guy. If you do that, they’ll burn you from the outside. We’ll have to guard them all, but he’s a guy that we’ll have to get a body on.”

Penn Cambria is known for its 3-point shooting, but Deer Lakes has proven to be an effective outside shooting team as well. In the quarterfinal win over Neshannock, Deer Lakes hit 10 3’s. Billy Schaeffer had four of them, and Bryce Robson connected on three. Michael Butler, Aiden Fletcher and Collin Rodgers had one each.

Deer Lakes already has made history with the first WPIAL championship and semifinal appearance. Now its a win away from punching a ticket to Hershey.

“I’m trying to remind myself and the players to enjoy this journey and pause and take a minute every now and again to be in the moment, enjoy the accomplishments we’ve achieved and the support from the community,” Fletcher said. “They also want to keep playing. We want to keep that all in our mind, but they are also looking at the next challenge.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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