Deer Lakes boys insist celebration of streak-busting win over OLSH will be short

Friday, December 23, 2022 | 8:43 PM

Happy Holidays, Deer Lakes.

The Lancers received an early present leading to the Christmas weekend when, on Thursday, they ended the nation’s longest winning streak in high school boys basketball by defeating two-time PIAA champion Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

The celebration of their decisive 70-55 victory, said their players and coaches, will be short-lived. Deer Lakes is back in action on Wednesday and Thursday at the Deer Lakes Holiday Tournament against Steel Valley and Avonworth.

“At our first practice and prep for the game, I told our guys that not for one minute should they be thinking they’re the underdog,” Deer Lakes coach Albie Fletcher said. “I said, ‘We have to go out and execute. We want to get some respect. We have the opportunity because we’re playing the No. 1 team.’ ”

OLSH, top ranked in Class 3A in the WPIAL, entered the night having won a Pennsylvania high school-record 74 consecutive games, which represented the longest current streak in the nation and six victories more than the old state mark of 68 by West Philadelphia from 1976-78.

OLSH broke the state record with a victory over Albert Gallatin in its season opener Dec. 3 after tying it by beating Philadelphia Constitution in the 2022 PIAA Class 2A championship game, the second year in a row the Chargers had defeated the Generals for a state title.

On Thursday, Deer Lakes didn’t just squeak by OLSH. The Lancers won going away, quieting an OLSH home crowd and sending a message around the WPIAL. The 15-point margin represented the largest lead of the game as Deer Lakes converted all eight of its free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, finishing 16 for 20 for the game. The Lancers also shot 42.6 % from the field, including 8 for 21 (38.1) from 3-point range.

“To be quite honest, there probably weren’t too many people who would’ve expected us to win that game,” Deer Lakes senior point guard Bryce Robson said. “We had a lot of confidence going in, and I’d say we would’ve been upset if we hadn’t won.”

Robson scored 21 points, and senior center Nate Litrun posted 12 points and 12 rebounds to lead Deer Lakes (5-3, 2-0 Section 3-3A). The 6-foot-5 Litrun left the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury, and Fletcher said his status is day-to-day.

Junior guard Billy Schaeffer added 17 points for the Lancers, who ended an OLSH winning streak that began after a 73-69 loss to Aliquippa on Jan. 7, 2020.

Since then, the Chargers (6-1, 1-1 Section 2-3A) have extended their run of five WPIAL section titles to go with three WPIAL championships in four years (covid-19 canceled the 2019-20 game).

OLSH, which next faces District 10’s Mercyhurst Prep on Wednesday at the Shaler Holiday Tournament, raced through the past two seasons undefeated.

“It’s an accomplishment that’s a product of four different teams,” OLSH coach Mike Rodriguez said of the state-record winning streak. “It could’ve ended a number of times before. It probably should’ve ended last year against Kennedy Catholic in the (PIAA) semifinals (78-68 victory).”

Senior guard Rocco Spadafora and senior forward Bryson Kirschner led OLSH with 19 points apiece. They represent the only returning starters from OLSH’s 28-0 team of a year ago.

The Chargers were missing three other players — two with injuries — but Rodriguez, who is in his 15th season at OLSH with a record of 280-76 (.787), said it didn’t matter.

“No excuses. That’s a very good basketball team we just played. We’re still finding our way,” he said.

All three Deer Lakes losses have come against schools in higher classifications (Class 5A Shaler and Class 4A No. 4 Highlands and No. 5 Hampton). The Lancers were dropped in class from 4A this year, and OLSH moved up from 2A.

“We put together a really difficult schedule, tried to get as many good teams as we could find in an attempt to see playoff-caliber basketball teams early and throughout the season,” Fletcher said. “We wanted to be battle-tested.”

Said Robson: “We started off on a pretty rigorous schedule, and we played those guys (at Shaler and Highlands) pretty close (losses of 69-57 and 88-74, respectively) and it was a confidence booster. We got smacked around at Hampton (70-38 loss), and it was humbling. But we got back in the gym and came back a little more level-headed.

“I love that we’re nine guys deep, and having ‘Coach Fletch,’ we love his passion and desire to succeed. We couldn’t ask for more.”


More Basketball

Trib HSSN 2023-24 WPIAL Class A boys basketball preseason breakdown
Starting 5: A primer for 2023-24 girls basketball season in Westmoreland County
Starting 5: A primer for 2023-24 boys basketball season in Westmoreland County
Trib HSSN 2023-24 WPIAL Class 2A girls basketball preseason breakdown
Trib HSSN 2023-24 WPIAL Class 3A boys basketball preseason breakdown