Young Deer Lakes girls basketball team hopes to continue growth in playoffs

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | 6:46 PM

Playoff expectations were high when the Deer Lakes girls basketball team opened camp.

Despite losing four senior starters to graduation, the young Lancers, with just one senior, felt confident the pieces were in place to make a run at the program’s 10th playoff berth in the past 11 years.

“Day-in and day-out, we were working so hard to get ready for the season,” said sophomore guard Reese Hasley, the lone returning starter. “The team really came together, and we couldn’t wait to succeed with what we had. A lot of people really stepped up right from the start.”

After weathering some tough losses in and out of Section 3-3A and building on key victories along the way, Deer Lakes (13-9) is where it hoped to be. The Lancers are the No. 9 seed in the WPIAL Class 3A bracket and will face No. 8 Seton LaSalle next Wednesday at North Allegheny. The game is a rematch of a 47-32 Deer Lakes win in last season’s first round.

“I was very encouraged by the girls’ attitudes coming out of Monday’s game,” said coach Dave Petruska, who said he saw some good things despite a 57-38 loss to Freeport in the regular-season finale. “Getting in a scrimmage (Wednesday) and another one in a couple of days, I hope it all brings about a positive atmosphere where the girls’ confidence can continue to grow heading into next Wednesday.”

The winner between the Lancers and Rebels will take on top-seeded Beaver Area (19-3) in the quarterfinals Feb. 21.

“We just want that win to go on to the next round,” Hasley said. “It’s exciting for everyone to see what we can do. You never know what can happen in the playoffs.”

Seton LaSalle, which lost one player to graduation, posted an 14-7 overall record and finished runner-up (11-3) to No. 4 South Park in Section 2. The Rebels, who lost their last three in section after starting 11-0, are led by a balanced scoring attack of seniors Chloe Lestitian (11.9 ppg.), Sarah Merlina (11.4) and Vanessa Hudson (11.1).

“I pretty much pulled up my scouting report from last year and started making additions to it,” Petruska said. “I will say that a number of their players have grown in their skill set. You can tell they’ve matured. It’s nice to have that comfort level of being familiar with them, but we know there are a number of things they have put in that we have to be ready for. Meeting that challenge is all part of the playoff experience.”

Deer Lakes finished tied with East Allegheny for third place in Section 3 at 9-5. The Lancers split with the Wildcats but were not able to get over the hump in the four total matchups against section champion Carlynton (14-8, 12-2) and runner-up Derry (14-8, 11-3).

“We’re all really excited because a lot of people underrated us and didn’t think we would make it to the playoffs,” said junior Cameron Simurda, who is back to 100% after a kidney infection sidelined her for about a week toward the end of the regular season.

“We just want to show how we’ve improved throughout the season and hopefully make a run.”

Deer Lakes led Section 3 in scoring defense at 37.9 points a game, and that total also ranked third behind Beaver (29.7) and Avonworth (33.2) in Class 3A.

“It was important for us to always be on our toes and ready for anything that came to us,” junior Jenny Butler said. “We’re able to switch in and out of any defense as needed. That can go a long way to being successful in the playoffs.”

Sophomore Nikki Fleming hopes to return to the lineup. She is expected to be evaluated Thursday to see if she has recovered sufficiently from a concussion suffered Jan. 30 against East Allegheny.

“If all goes well and she passes all of her exit tests, we can get her back,” Petruska said. “She’s had a great season, and it’s been tough to not have her available. But she’s stayed pretty positive and can’t wait to return.”

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

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