Deer Lakes eyeing playoff berth
Deer Lakes senior guard Larry Rommes has been through his share of losing.
Rommes and senior forward Drew Geyer were starters on last year's basketball team that went 9-15, as well as football teams that won only three games over the past two seasons.
That is enough to make the basketball team's 8-3 start very sweet for the seniors.
"We are definitely having fun with this," Rommes said.
Rommes is a key part of a deep, versatile team with a balanced offense and just enough defense to be among the leaders in Section 1-AAA.
"Our goal definitely is the playoffs," Rommes said. "Our main goal is the section, though. We want to stick to one game at a time. We don't overlook anybody.
"Not a lot of teams respect us. We want to gain respect."
First-year coach Kevin Smetak is helping the Lancers earn that. He coached Freeport two years ago when Garrie Davies took a year off for health reasons, then ran the Deer Lakes junior varsity team last season.
"I think our work ethic has been much better," Smetak said. "The summer program had about 90 percent participation. I told them if they were not ready to put the hours in with the team, don't bother to come out in November."
That helped the pieces fit together in a strong offensive team with five players averaging more than 10 points per game. Rommes, a point guard who plays some on the wing, leads the way with 14.8 points per game.
Geyer, a 6-foot-4 forward, has come on lately and averages 14.6 per game.
"Geyer is a phenomenal athlete," Smetak said. "He's extremely quick inside and he can step out and shoot the three."
The others in double figures are sophomore guard Bob Smith (12.0 ppg) and juniors Greg Fryman and Josh Ippolito, both scoring over 10 per game off the bench.
"Part of the reason we are going so good is, we have eight or nine that can play," Rommes said. "In the (section opener against) Knoch, we had three starters foul out and a lot of kids on the bench stepped up to win it for us."
"The Knoch game was big," Smetak said. "It made the kids believe in themselves."
The bench also includes senior guard Frank Hahn, who should make an impact after missing the first eight games of the year with a broken foot, and Evan Lubawy.
"It's been a surprise to us," Smetak said. "Entering the season, we were unsure where we would get our points from. We thought we would be a team that scored in the 50s and have to hold teams down. Scoring almost 70 a game is a big surprise."
So is Smith, who spent the summer working with the junior varsity, then earned a starting sport on the varsity this year.
"Obviously, he has been a pleasant surprise," Smetak said. "He has no fear at all. He puts up the open shot. He makes the extra pass. He's a good defender. He's definitely earned his way.
"He's a fantastic shooter. A lot of teams concentrate on Larry outside, and Drew inside. We have a third option with Bobby. He can hit the big three for us."
The other two starters are senior guard Kevin Porapatich, who plays some point, and junior guard Jeff Rommes, Larry's brother.
"While Larry is an offensive threat, his brother goes on our opponents' top scorer," Smetak said. "Jeff is a tough kid who can play inside and out.
"Kevin Porapatich has been wonderful for us. He lost 25 pounds from last year and completely restructured his game. He's our best player at taking a defender off the dribble."
Deer Lakes has also shown an ability to win close games, taking four games by four points or fewer.
"Different kids at different times seem to step up," Smetak said. "They are not phased by anything around them. They are having fun and enjoying the moment. There is no pressure. Only what they put on themselves."
Deer Lakes still has some very tough section games remaining, including two with Hampton and one more with Highlands and Knoch.
Deer Lakes hung with top-ranked Highlands for a while Dec. 18, before the Golden Rams blew by them in the second half, beating the Lancers, 102-63.
"We got a little greedy," Smetak said. "We thought we could score with Highlands. We found out we couldn't. I don't think many teams that can, if anybody can."
That game showed two of Smetak's concerns - defense and how his team handles success.
"We can't allow ourselves to be happy," Smetak said. "The season is (only) half over. I told the kids the toughest roads and games are yet to come.
"Defensively, we are still improving. We are scoring the second-most points in the section, but we are giving up the most. We play an up-tempo style. You will give up some easy baskets with that. We just hope we get one more than we give up in most cases."