Deer Lakes, Burrell girls basketball stage showdown
The hype started swirling and the buzz began back in November, long before either team played a game or preseason rankings hit the papers.
“There were teachers, different people, anyone who knew basketball, asking us, ‘When do you play Burrell?,' ” said Deer Lakes senior shooting guard Becca Babincak. “Everyone's been looking forward to this game. We know the gym is going to be packed.”
As for the girls teams, themselves, the ink hadn't dried on their schedules and Deer Lakes and Burrell were eyeing the first of their two Section 1-AA showdowns. On Monday night, they'll finally meet at Burrell with sole possession of first place on the line.
Deer Lakes (11-1, 4-0) enters the clash ranked No. 3 in Class AA by Trib Total Media, with Burrell (8-1, 4-0) at No. 4.
It's no secret that senior-less Burrell has potential. It has looked like an AAU team with a talented mix of young players who play with the calm and coolness of upperclassmen, and also share an eerie familiarity with each other. But fact is, the Bucs haven't won anything yet, and potential can't erase a six-game losing streak against Deer Lakes that dates back three seasons.
“Burrell is an awesome team; one of those teams that come along once in a school's lifetime,” Deer Lakes coach Dana Petruska said. “They have all the tools. It's a shame that they don't have a lot of older girls to help the younger ones along. The biggest thing is their lack of experience.”
Burrell beat Deer Lakes twice in 2009, the first year the Bucs dropped from Class AAA to AA. But since that point, the Lancers have cruised to a half-dozen wins by an average of 20.5 points.
The Lancers, owners of back-to-back section titles, swept last year's series by scores of 53-38 and 46-38.
“There's going to be the revenge thing from last year,” Burrell junior forward Jessica Cercone said. “We want to prove to everyone that we are a better team than last year.”
Deer Lakes has 66 wins across the past three-plus seasons and made the WPIAL quarterfinals in 2011. Both teams lost in the first round last year.
“Burrell's a good team; all the respect goes towards them,” said Babincak, who has college interest from several schools, including Point Park and Saint Vincent. “They have players who play all year long. But we have experience; I have been in a ton of playoff games.
“It will be a great game to watch.”
Neither team has been tested much, which plays a big part in their stingy defensive scoring averages. Burrell has allowed a WPIAL-low 24.2 points per game, while Deer Lakes has surrendered 30.7.
Both have winning margins greater than 25 points per game. Up 20, 30, sometimes 40 points in games, both teams have sat starters for extended periods of time.
With both lineups seeing substantial minutes this time, and defense taking center stage as expected, fans could be in for a low-scoring affair.
“Who knows?” Burrell coach Meghan Ziemianski said. “It might be a 32-30 game. You never know. I know our girls are excited for this game.”
“Or, it could be a track meet,” Babincak said. “We run, and they like to push the ball.”
Petruska said Mohawk, which Deer Lakes handled, 51-29, resembles Burrell.
“Their point guard is like (Bordonaro); she handles the ball well,” Petruska said. “And they're big inside. We just had one of those nights where everything went our way.”
Both teams lost to Class AAAA Shaler. Burrell suffered its only loss, 47-36. Deer Lakes had a cold-shooting third quarter and fell, 46-28.
“We've been looking forward to this game all year,” Burrell junior guard Kelsey Oddis said. “The tough part is for us is to try and treat it like any other game.”
The most intriguing one-on-one matchups are in the backcourt, with Babincak possibly facing Burrell sophomore Sydney Bordonaro and Lancers point guard Nichole Kearns going against junior Jaila Manga.
The X-factor could be Burrell freshman Natalie Myers, a budding standout in a lineup full of them. Burrell will have a clear size advantage with the 6-foot-1 Cercone and 5-10 Myers.
“That could be a problem for us,” Petruska said. “We're 5-8, and that's about it. But we're a tenacious 5-8.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.