Deer Lakes hits 3-pointer in closing seconds, upsets No. 1 seed Steel Valley

Monday, February 27, 2023 | 10:08 PM

The Deer Lakes boys are headed to the WPIAL finals for the first time in school history, and they’ll do so with a first-year coach leading the celebration. But before they could scream and shout Monday night, everyone in green and gold held their breath.

Lancers senior Michael Butler made a winning 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left, answering a go-ahead shot moments earlier at the other end as No. 5 Deer Lakes upset No. 1 Steel Valley, 65-63, in a dramatic WPIAL Class 3A semifinal at Bethel Park.

The made 3-pointer was his first of the game.

“I knew I had to hit it for my team,” said Butler, who shot from the right corner. “We’d fought all night. I had to hit it.”

Deer Lakes reached the WPIAL quarterfinals in three of the past four seasons, but new coach Albie Fletcher helped push them two rounds further this winter. A 1993 Deer Lakes graduate, Fletcher was an assistant under previous coach Terence Parham.

“I tell the guys all the time, it means something to wear that jersey,” Fletcher said. “Look at this community (in the stands). This is amazing. We’ve been talking about a legacy. What is your legacy going to be? What a way to continue to write that legacy.”

No. 6 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (19-5) waits for Deer Lakes (16-8) in the finals at 5 p.m. Friday at Petersen Events Center. OLSH has won the past four Class 2A titles before moving up to 3A.

The Deer Lakes girls won a WPIAL title in 1985, but the boys had never reached the finals until now.

“This means so much,” Butler said, “not only for the team but for our coaching staff — they work so hard — and our fans.”

Butler’s winning shot came moments after Steel Valley freshman Nahjir Norris made a 3-pointer at the other end to take a 63-62 lead with 17 seconds left. The game was close throughout with second-half ties at 37, 46, 51, 53 and 55.

These teams also met Dec. 28 in the Deer Lakes tournament, and Steel Valley won 62-61. The Ironmen scored the winning basket that day with 3.9 seconds left.

This time, after Butler’s 3-pointer, Steel Valley tried to counter punch one last time, but Makhai Valentine’s 3-pointer at the buzzer missed. The star senior scored a game-high 37 points with five 3s.

“We just came up short,” Steel Valley coach Lauren Varacalli said.

Steel Valley (14-10) was trying to reach the finals for the first time since 2002. Instead, the Ironmen will face Neshannock in a third-place game Wednesday at a site and time to be announced.

Seven WPIAL teams from 3A qualify for the PIAA playoffs, so Steel Valley and Deer Lakes both will take part in the state tournament.

Deer Lakes had three scorers in double figures. Nate Litrun led the Lancers with 18 points, Billy Schaeffer had 16 and Bryce Robson added 13. Butler finished with seven but made the biggest shot of the night.

“The kid is just a gamer,” Fletcher said.

Once Steel Valley took the lead with 17 seconds left, some coaches would’ve called a timeout and schemed for a winning shot. Fletcher let the clock run.

“I feel like I know my guys pretty good,” said Fletcher, who starts four seniors. “We’d talked about some things we would want to do in that situation. I saw the look and said they’re good. I don’t want to put the brakes on.”

The Lancers brought the ball down the floor, Robson drove to the foul line, drew the defense into the paint and passed to Butler, who was open in the corner.

“For Michael Butler to make that shot,” Fletcher said, “without making one all night, just shows the maturity of them, the poise of them. As a coach, I wouldn’t trade them for anybody in the world.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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