Surging Derry girls drop Deer Lakes, move into sole possession of first in section

Thursday, January 9, 2020 | 11:09 PM

Even with a rowdy student section that was all decked out in USA-themed red, white and blue cheering and jeering, and a pep band thumping and blowing horns during timeouts, the Derry girls basketball team somehow continued to make all the noise.

The upstart Lady Trojans, led by first-year coach Gene Brisbane and ranked No. 5 in WPIAL Class 3A, took advantage of the hyped atmosphere and showed their home fans just how improved they are by posting their fourth straight victory, 47-40, over Deer Lakes on Thursday night in a first-place showdown in Section 3-3A.

The Trojans (8-4, 5-1) are now alone atop the section.

“The pep band was good and the student section was really good,” Brisbane said. “You know they are going get into the game right from the jump ball. There were a lot of local community people here … I think everybody is having fun coming to watch the games. More people will come.”

Coach Dave Petruska said Deer Lakes (7-4, 4-2) was not prepared to see such a raucous crowd and the extra set dressing after his team saw its four-game losing streak come to an end.

“That was something about here I forgot about,” Petruska said. “They didn’t do that when we came here last year. I thought maybe we could use it to our advantage, but it didn’t work out. I was proud to see our young girls respond the way they did.”

Derry senior forward Kamryn Kelly is listed at 5-foot-8 but the Shenandoah softball recruit played more like 6-4 against the Lancers.

She filled up the stat sheet with 15 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks for her fourth double-double of the season.

“We know what we’re capable of doing, so we just have to execute,” Kelly said. “We were really up for this game because it was for first (place).

“We love coach’s energy. He is always making us push ourselves in practice. He know what we’re capable of, and he puts us up to that expectation.”

Derry, which returned four starters from a 9-11 team that missed the playoffs by one game, suddenly is looking like a postseason contender again.

The Trojans have not been to the WPIAL playoffs since 2015-16.

Brisbane is their fourth coach in as many years. He has the team playing fundamentally sound and pushing themselves, no matter who they play.

“It was all in our heads in the past,” Kelly said. “We just had to go out there and show what we’re about.”

Deer Lakes, with just one returning starter (sophomore Reese Hasley), went 17-7 last year and made the WPIAL playoffs for the fifth straight season. Playing their third game in four days, the Lancers could not rally back after taking a brief lead in the first quarter.

Derry stretched the lead to 19-10 in the second quarter and took a 26-21 lead into halftime after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by sophomore Tiana Moracco, who tied Kelly’s game-high with 15 points — 12 in the second half.

Lydia Guthrie’s putback got the Lancers within 28-27 in the third but a 9-0 surge by Derry put the Trojans ahead, 37-27.

Back-to-back layups by Moracco and senior Olexei Nuttall, both off turnovers, and a block by Kelly, sparked the run.

A three-point play by Moracco with 4:59 remaining in the fourth made it 41-32.

Deer Lakes, known for being a 3-point shooting team, kept firing from long range. Reese Hasley made a three to cut it to 41-35, and another long bomb from Nikki Fleming cut it to 47-40.

In between, Derry made 6 of 12 free throws to stay out of harm’s way.

The Lancers made just the two threes.

“Every time they got some advantage, we’d cut it back,” Petruska said.

Derry could have added to its lead with free throws, but the Trojans made just 15 of 33 attempts.

“We have to work on that,” Brisbane said. “We just made 71% of our foul shots in the last game.”

Brisbane, who had held coaching positions with the Hempfield girls and Westmoreland County Community College women among other stops, likes his team’s exertion and budding confidence.

“The first day I met with them, I told them I will coach all the offenses, defenses, drills and fundamentals … but the one thing I will not coach is effort,” Brisbane said. “That’s your responsibility. I reminded them of that tonight. They owned that responsibility tonight, and that’s why you are where you are right now.

“I am having fun coaching this team.”

Deer Lakes played without freshman Jessica Sullivan, a key reserve who hit her head in the junior varsity game.

Senior Makayla Blair led the Lancers with 13 points, and junior Cameron Simurda had 12.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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