Late basket lifts Steel Valley boys past Deer Lakes

Wednesday, December 28, 2022 | 10:09 PM

The Steel Valley boys basketball team entered Wednesday’s holiday tournament game at Deer Lakes with an un-Steel Valley-like 1-7 record.

That’s because the Ironmen were missing some of the school’s outstanding football players who won the WPIAL title last month.

One of those players, 6-foot-5, 315-pound tackle Greg Smith, who is headed for Miami (Ohio), scored the winning basket with 3.9 seconds to go to lift Steel Valley to a 62-61 victory over the Lancers.

“With Greg and Cruce (Brookins) coming back, it’s always great to have two Division-I athletes on the floor,” said Ironmen coach Dale Chapman. “You try to get them into situations where they’re matched up and let them do their thing.”

Brookins is headed to Pitt.

Deer Lakes was nursing a 61-60 lead after Makhai Valentine’s 3-pointer with 1:09 remaining. The Lancers were trying to run out the clock when an errant, crosscourt pass went out of bounds, giving Steel Valley possession with 13 seconds to go.

Instead of calling timeout to set up a play, Chapman just let the players decide it.

“We’ve got three seniors on the floor who have been there before,” the coach said. “It’s my opinion if you call a timeout, you stop the momentum and the other team gets a chance to set up a defense. Let’s just play it out, two good teams, evenly matched, play it out.”

Deer Lakes trailed 51-44 to start the fourth quarter. A pair of 3-pointers by Bryce Robson helped the Lancers come back. Collin Rodgers hit a pair of free throws with 2:57 left to tie the score at 57-all.

Two straight Steel Valley turnovers resulted in a a basket by Robson and two more free throws by Wayne Love to give Deer Lakes a 61-57 lead.

“One thing I told them is that they handled adversity very well,” Deer Lakes coach Albie Fletcher said. “That’s a really good basketball team. They finally got all their horses back. Too bad it was against us. We could have scheduled anybody for this tournament, but we scheduled Steel Valley because we knew they were a great team.”

The Lancers were coming off the huge upset over OLSH last week that ended the Chargers’ 74-game, state-record winning streak.

Said Fletcher: “We want to make a far run this year, and these are the kinds of teams we want to play. We got off to a little slow start, but we adjusted along the way. We missed a lot of shots. We missed a lot of opportunities.”

Deer Lakes also played without 6-5 center Nate Litrum, who twisted an ankle against OLSH.

“No excuses, next man up,” Fletcher said.

Love played well, collecting nine points and eight rebounds, and Rodgers tallied 13. Robson had 18 for the Lancers.

Valentine turned in a great performance for the Ironmen, leading with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Smith scored 14.

“Makhai’s our general,” Chapman said. “He’s the man. It’s always double digits in rebounds, double digits in scoring. Credit to Deer Lakes. They kept in front of him. They forced him to take some deep shots that he normally doesn’t take.”

The Lancers (5-4) will play Avonworth at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the classic-formatted tourney, and Steel Valley will play Knoch at 6.

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