Saturday, March 18, 2023 | 5:05 PM
All season, the Deer Lakes boys basketball team has prided itself on how deep its bench is.
That depth was needed maybe more than at any time this year Saturday to keep the team’s historic run alive.
Deer Lakes had nine players score, wore down Neshannock and turned a six-point halftime deficit into a 69-56 victory in the PIAA 3A quarterfinals at North Allegheny.
Deer Lakes (20-8) advanced to the PIAA semifinals for the first time in school history, where it will play District 6 champ Penn Cambria on Tuesday for the right to go to Hershey. Neshannock finished 20-8.
At halftime, Deer Lakes coach Albie Fletcher told his team it would need all 10 players to step up if they were going to advance. Employing hockey-like line changes, Deer Lakes outscored Neshannock, 42-23, over the final two quarters.
“It’s the most unselfish team I’ve ever coached,” Fletcher said. “They know that if they have to come out or are in foul trouble that the guy coming in has their back. The ability for us to do that not only gives the other team different guys to worry about, but it also wears on teams. Their best have to stay on, and we’re OK with taking guys out for two or three minutes. Quite frankly, it allows us to play the matchups and play the hot hand. Our guys could care less who’s in there because they just want to keep rolling. That’s the beauty of it.”
Maybe the biggest area Deer Lakes showcased its depth was a defensive switch at halftime to a triangle-and-2 intended to slow down Neshannock sharpshooter Jack Glies.
Glies went off in the first half, scoring 21 points. He sank five 3-pointers and carried Neshannock to a 33-27 halftime lead.
In the second half, Deer Lakes rotated four players — Michael Butler, Aiden Fletcher, Derek Burk and Collin Rodgers — to face-guard Glies.
Glies did not attempt a shot in the third quarter and didn’t make a field goal in the second half. As a team, Neshannock made three field goals the entire second half and none in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve run that defense before, and if it’s done effectively, it’s frustrating for an offensive player when you’re constantly being face-guarded,” Fletcher said. “It’s also hard on the guys that are guarding them. So in the past, we’ve rotated four or five guys in and given them two minutes. It’s a great defense, but it’s hard to run if you don’t have the depth to do it.”
Once Deer Lakes shored up the defensive end, it started hitting on the offensive side.
Billy Schaeffer connected on consecutive 3-pointers to tie the score at 33-33 with just over five minutes remaining.
“It felt awesome, and the team fed off of it,” Schaeffer said of his consecutive 3s. “I was also feeding off their buckets. We just wanted to come out of the halftime break looking to get them back for how the first half went.”
Bryce Robson also had a pair of 3s, and Nathaniel Moore scored in the paint to help Deer Lakes take a 44-41 lead after three quarters.
Once Deer Lakes got the lead, it never relinquished it. Neshannock stayed within striking distance by going 15 of 16 at the free-throw line in the fourth but couldn’t find the big shot to gain any momentum.
“Field goals in both the third and fourth quarters were hard to come by for us,” Neshannock coach John Corey said. “I think the first half where Jack had his way put them in a position to make an adjustment. Look, they’re a very good team that’s very well coached.
“The big thing with Deer Lakes is they go 10 deep, and they don’t lose much. There’s a couple guys that shoot the ball a little better, but they don’t lose much. We pride ourselves on playing really hard, tough and physical, and I think Deer Lakes does the same. They’ve got a lot of pride on the defensive end, and when they can run 10 guys at you and not really take a step back, it gives them the opportunity to continue to turn the heat up.”
Robson led Deer Lakes with 19 points, and Schaeffer had 16.
Glies scored 29 and is one of four seniors with Nate Rynd, Luciano DeLillo and injured Andrew Frye. They were part of the first team in Corey’s 15 seasons at Neshannock to win 20 games.
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer
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