Deer Lakes jumps on Loyalsock Township, rolls into PIAA quarterfinals

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Wednesday, March 15, 2023 | 10:12 PM


ALTOONA — Albie Fletcher makes no secret about where his loyalty lies.

“We’re excited to keep our community following us,” Deer Lakes’ first-year boys basketball coach and 1993 school alum said Wednesday night in the moments after the Lancers advanced to the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals for the second time in school history.

“We’re going to keep riding this thing as long as we can.”

The Deer Lakes Lancers built a big lead against the Loyalsock Township Lancers in their second-round game at Altoona Fieldhouse, then held off their counterparts from Lycoming County in the fourth quarter to earn a 67-59 victory. Senior Bryce Robson scored eight of his team-high 18 points for Deer Lakes in the final, frantic eight minutes.

Deer Lakes (19-8), the WPIAL champion, moves on to play Neshannock (20-7), the WPIAL fourth-place playoff finisher, in the quarterfinals Saturday at a site and time to be determined.

Neshannock defeated District 9 champion Brookville, 44-40, in a second-round game Wednesday night at Clarion.

“We know Neshannock is a great team,” Fletcher said. “We’re familiar with them because we played Mohawk (twice) this year.”

Neshannock and Mohawk wound up tied atop the Section 1-3A regular-season standings this season.

Senior Nate Litrun and freshman Collin Rodgers added 10 points each for Deer Lakes.

Junior Gage Patterson paced Loyalsock Township (16-12) with 20 points.

Junior Tyler Gee added 13 points, and junior Nate Bauman finished with 11 for the District 4 third-place Lancers, who will return their entire starting lineup next season.

“We only had one senior on the team, and he didn’t start,” Loyalsock Township coach Ron Insinger said. “We have a great nucleus to start with next season.

“We lost to a good team tonight. We underestimated them. They’re a solid team. They can flat-out shoot and play the game.”

The WPIAL’s Lancers from Deer Lakes nearly allowed a 19-point third-quarter lead slip away when District 4’s Lancers from Loyalsock Township cut the deficit to 48-47 with 3 minutes, 16 seconds left in the game on a 3-point shot by Isaiah Jennings.

Loyalsock Township’s pressure defense in the latter stages nearly did in Deer Lakes, but Robson said he wasn’t surprised his team didn’t wilt.

Robson converted two free throws and followed them with a layup before senior Michael Butler’s basket with 2:26 to go put Deer Lakes ahead 54-47 and forced Loyalsock Township to retreat with a timeout.

“That was a very effective press, one of the most effective presses we’ve seen all year,” Robson said. “But we’ve been in these situations a lot. We’ve played a lot of playoff games so far, and we’ve been in a lot of high-pressure games all year. We really fed off our experience. Down the stretch, it was more so understanding we’ve been in these situations and just needed to figure it out as we went.”

Deer Lakes ended the first half on a flurry, outscoring Loyalsock Township, 13-4, to take a 26-17 advantage into intermission. Butler and junior Wayne Love scored three baskets apiece during the run.

The second half, however, turned into an adventure for Deer Lakes.

“They were up in us,” Fletcher said. “They did a nice job of switching off our screens and some things we had in. We had to dig deep into the playbook to get a couple of things going there.”

He credited his young players, saying he trusts whomever is on the floor.

“Collin Rodgers, as a freshman coming off the bench as an extra guard out there, it was big moments,” Fletcher said. “He made big free throws down the stretch, so that was big for us, too.”

Fletcher said the timeouts were therapy for everyone on the team.

“We work on a lot of those situations in practice, and I kept telling them, ‘This is why we do this stuff. This is why we do it. You’ve got to shine in the biggest moment.’ I knew if we would be a little bit sharper on our screens and cuts that we’d be OK. It took a long time for us to get going.”

Deer Lakes continued to expand its lead and pushed the margin to nine points. Loyalsock Township got no closer than six the rest of the way.

“When you get this far along in the state tournament, you’ve got to put together 32 solid minutes,” Insinger said. “Tonight we put together about 10 solid minutes. We were very tentative and impatient on offense. Their matchup zone gave us fits in the beginning. Once we learned how to attack it, it came a little easier.”

With just two days to prepare for the next game, Fletcher said there isn’t time to dwell on Deer Lakes’ latest success.

“I’ve got five films teed up on (the bus), so I’m going to get on there and start prepping for (Thursday). This is going to be a tough stretch. We’ve got two days to prepare.”

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