Deer Lakes girls shrug off slow start to get back on playoff path

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Saturday, January 6, 2018 | 12:01 AM


After Deer Lakes missed 16 of 17 3-point attempts in a victory over St. Joseph last week, coach Dave Petruska cautioned the Lancers not to fall in love with the outside shot.

Then came the first half of the team's Section 1-4A girls basketball game against Burrell on Thursday night.

Jump shot after jump shot clanked off the rim, and even strong work on the offensive boards went mostly for naught. Deer Lakes made no field goals in the first quarter and scored just 16 points in the first half before eventually coming alive in the second half for a 47-36 victory.

“We needed to really focus our concentration on not just loving the 3 and sticking with the 3, but being more patient with it and getting the ball inside more,” Petruska said. “We kind of faded away from (that), but it was nice to see some shots fall.”

In some ways, the game against Burrell represented a microcosm of Deer Lakes' season. The Lancers started slow but finished strong. Since an 0-4 start, Deer Lakes (4-5, 1-2) has won three games in a row and four of five to seemingly get back on a path toward the postseason.

“I think we've really been playing together,” junior Abby Buechel said. “We hit the open player. We've been communicating more on defense. I just think we've been playing a lot more together.”

The victory over Burrell showed Deer Lakes can win even when the offense doesn't perform to Petruska's hopes.

The defense is another story. Using an aggressive, full-court pressure, the Lancers forced Burrell into 33 turnovers, clogging passing lanes and turning deflections into takeaways.

“With some of the new presses we're trying to run, it's really throwing people off,” Buechel said. “It's good for turnovers, and I think we can really capitalize on some of those turnovers and turn them into points.”

The X-factor in Deer Lakes' pressure is the Lancers can employ it constantly because of their depth. Petruska used 10 players against Burrell, and they came at the Bucs in waves.

“I really love our pressure and what we're able to do with it, especially with the players that we have and the amount of players that we have,” Petruska said. “A lot of teams that we're seeing, especially in our section, they don't have the luxury of having a bench that is able to come in and keep the same intensity and keep the same mentality coming off the bench.

“We definitely have that, and I like utilizing it. Being able to tire teams out is a big factor that I like to utilize going into games.”

The bench also provided an important offensive spark against Burrell. Senior Emily Mischen scored 10 points, including eight in the second quarter, to help Deer Lakes overcome its early offensive struggles, and her final basket kick-started a 9-0 fourth-quarter run that put the game out of reach. Senior Marie Schmitzer added four points in that run and six in the game.

For Deer Lakes to extend its three-year WPIAL playoff streak, the Lancers will need to get the kind of consistent production Petruska wants.

It's happening slowly, but it is happening, Petruska said.

“The biggest thing that I have noticed is how they're slowly beginning to gel together,” Petruska said. “That was another thing I said at halftime (Thursday). The first half, I don't think we were playing fully together or fully aware of what we were able to do … but we responded well in the second half.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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