No matter what happened Friday night at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center, history was going to be made.
For Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and its fans, the hope was that the Chargers would tie the great Midland dynasty of the mid-1970s by becoming only the second team to win five consecutive WPIAL titles. OLSH came about as close as possible to pulling off the feat, but the Chargers’ last-second shot attempt rolled off the rim and instead, Deer Lakes etched its place in history. The Lancers captured their first WPIAL championship with a dramatic 61-60 win in the Class 3A boys basketball final, delighting the droves of Deer Lakes fans who showed up in support.
“It’s still hitting me,” Lancers first-year coach Albie Fletcher said. “That crowd was electric. I don’t think there’s a single person back in West Deer right now. … Just a wonderful journey, and I’m just so happy for these kids.
“I was hoping for a lot less drama, I’m not going to lie to you. But I’ll take it.”
Bryce Robson was the hero for Deer Lakes, finishing with a team-high 18 points — none bigger than his winning layup with 1:10 remaining. This marked the second consecutive nail-biting finish for the Lancers, who defeated top-seeded Steel Valley in the WPIAL semifinals on a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds by Michael Butler. Both times, they had to watch and hold their breath as a would-be game-winning shot by their opponents rattled off the rim as time expired.
“My heart sank for a little bit, but after that, it was just a surreal feeling,” Robson said.
Billy Schaeffer and Wayne Love joined Robson in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively, for Deer Lakes. Rocco Spadafora led OLSH with 18 points to go with 14 from B.J. Vaughn and 10 from Bryson Kirschner.
After the game, Chargers coach Mike Rodriguez could do nothing but compliment the Lancers for their gutsy performance.
“They’re a good basketball team. They’re balanced, they’ve got size. They’re the total package,” Rodriguez said. “But I don’t want to take anything away from our guys. I’m extremely proud. I thought our guys played a great, great, great game today.
“It must have been a fun game to watch.”
The teams traded buckets at a frenetic pace throughout a back-and-forth first quarter, with Robson knocking down a 3-pointer to give Deer Lakes a 10-9 lead before a 3-point play by Love made it 13-9 midway through the first. Back-to-back transition layups by Love and Collin Rodgers stretched the lead to 17-9, then OLSH charged back into the game with an 8-0 run capped by a Spadafora 3-pointer.
The Chargers trailed by two entering the second quarter, but they quickly regained the lead thanks to two more 3-pointers by Spadafora, who added another 3 later in the first half to give OLSH a 34-30 lead going into the break.
“I was just trying to get the lead up higher and higher,” Spadafora said. “I had to knock them down.”
Spadafora hit his fifth 3-pointer early in the third quarter to give the Chargers a nine-point lead, but the Lancers continued to fight. After Deer Lakes cut the gap to two, Spadafora drained another 3 to make it a 48-43 lead for OLSH. Robson then got a favorable bounce on a 3-pointer to tie it up late in the third quarter, but Vaughn answered with a corner 3 as time expired in the third to make it a 51-48 Chargers lead entering the fourth.
The teams traded leads down the stretch as the game neared its dramatic conclusion. Spadafora found Kirschner for an easy layup in transition to make it a 58-55 lead for OLSH, then the Lancers came right back to take a 59-58 lead on a bucket by Nate Buechel. Kirschner then converted a tough shot in the lane to put the Chargers back on top, 60-59, with 1:29 remaining.
Robson then hit the biggest shot of his life to take a 61-60 lead with 1:10 left, and Deer Lakes executed its defensive assignments to perfection on the game’s final possession. The ball rolled off the rim on Dereon Greer’s desperation putback as time expired, kicking off a raucous celebration at midcourt as the Lancers soaked in the historic moment.
“To have worn this jersey a long time ago, and then to see them wearing it with that [gold] medal around it — it means the world,” Fletcher said. “It’s one of the most special moments of my life.”
For WPIAL postseason basketball brackets, results and schedules, go here.