Abrupt end for Deer Lakes in WPIAL boys basketball playoffs
It wasn't supposed to end this way. Not for a senior-led team. Not for a first-year coach who helped make the program relevant again.
But the run came to an abrupt end for Deer Lakes' boys basketball team, which was fresh off its first section title in 20 years.
Deer Lakes walked off the court at North Hills on Saturday afternoon stunned and dismayed after a 48-45 loss to Shady Side Academy in a WPIAL Class AA preliminary-round playoff game.
Deer Lakes (16-7) still is seeking its first playoff win since 1985.
Shady Side Academy (9-14) advanced to face Brentwood (13-9) on Wednesday in the first round.
“Them being 8-14 is ridiculous,” Deer Lakes coach Jon McKay said of Shady Side. “That is a good team that plays in the best section in Class AA with Greensburg Central, Jeannette and Serra Catholic. They have a lot of size, and that bothered us.”
Deer Lakes had problems with the Indians' 2-3 zone, which closed out on shooters and forced an uncharacteristic number of turnovers. Still, Deer Lakes hit eight 3-pointers but could not sustain momentum like it had all season.
The Indians seemed to have an answer for every Lancers highlight.
“They were getting out on our shooters,” McKay said. “They made us work for shots and played us tough.”
Deer Lakes, which got very few points in the paint, led by five early in the fourth quarter, but the Indians regained the lea, 40-39, with a 6-0 run capped by Jackson Fitzgerald's turnaround jumper with 4:41 left.
Deer Lakes went ahead, 41-40, on two free throws by guard Tim Jaczesko, but Shady Side guard Aaron Horne scored on a pair of runners to make it 46-41 with 1:20 to play.
J.J. Kowalkowski cut it to 46-43, but the Lancers took about 20 seconds to get a shot off on their next possession, with Zach Bryner cutting through the lane for an uncontested hoop to make it 46-45 with 18.7 seconds remaining.
McKay said he wasn't trying to play for overtime when trailing by three.
Deer Lakes called timeout, and then fouled Marous. Shady Side, confident in its shooter, sent four players to the other end of the court. Marous calmly hit both free throws for a 48-45 advantage with 16 seconds left. Deer Lakes could not answer.
“Our guys have been getting better defensively all season,” Shady Side Academy coach Gene Deal said. “They did a great job. They were comfortable playing that way.”
Horne scored 11 of his team-high 13 points in the second half.
“The kid has amazing body control,” Deal said. “He really played a great game today.”
Jaczesko finished with a game-high 18 points, including 11 in the third. He hit four 3-pointers.
Bryner added 12 points, all in the second half, and Kowalkowski scored nine for the Lancers.
“What happened today does not take away from what this team did,” McKay said. “This is a tremendous bunch. When you commit to the program the way these guys did for so many months and you lose like this, it slaps you in the face.
“I don't think it will hit them until they realize we don't have practice tomorrow.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.