It often has been said that good things come in threes.

That sentiment certainly rings true for Deer Lakes boys basketball coach Albie Fletcher.

After claiming two regular-season victories against section-rival Burrell, the Lancers overcame a slow start the third time around Friday night at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center to claim a 55-49 victory and their second WPIAL Class 3A championship in a row.

“When you play a team three times, it certainly makes my job easier because you have the breakdown from the first one already, you’ve got the game in between,” Fletcher said. “We didn’t have as much to do, but, again, hats off to these guys. I think knowing that opponent inside and out was a huge part of that victory.”

Top-seeded Deer Lakes (21-4) dominated Burrell (16-9) on the boards, outrebounding the No. 11-seeded Bucs, 38-23. The Lancers also made 14-of-22 free throws – converting on 8 of 13 in the fourth quarter.

Senior guard Billy Schaeffer scored a game-high 20 points with seven rebounds, while sophomore Collin Rodgers poured in 12 points, which included three critical free throws in the final 30 seconds.

Junior forward Nathaniel Moore also contributed 16 rebounds for the Lancers.

“The feeling is surreal,” Schaeffer said. “I can’t explain it. There’s nothing to explain it with. I’m just going to smile.”

Senior shooting guard Macky Bennis scored a team-high 17 points to pace Burrell, which was the only double-digit seed to advance to a WPIAL championship.

Deer Lakes’ Billy Schaeffer is on the move in the WPIAL Class 3A boys championship Friday night at Petersen Events Center. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The upstart Bucs had to knock off No. 6 Seton LaSalle, No. 3 Shady Side Academy and No. 2 Mohawk to get a third shot at dethroning Deer Lakes.

“We beat the 6-, 2- and 3-seeded teams,” Burrell coach Mike Fantuzzo said. “I can’t say enough about them. They battled and they fought and they beat the odds. It was a two-point game with 40 seconds left, and we’re right there.

“It’s just a sour taste,” he added after dropping another game to the Lancers. “They’re a good team, give them all the credit. It’s a rival game and not that we want to lose any game, but it makes it a little tougher when it’s against them.”

It was Burrell, though, that drew first blood after a hotly contested first quarter.

The Bucs opened the second quarter on a 9-0 run led by five points from Ryan Croushore.

“I was thrilled,” Fantuzzo said. “We had some momentum. We were doing some good things, penetrating on them, ducking in and getting those layups. They made some adjustments, so they kind of closed that up.”

Deer Lakes would answer over the final nearly five minutes of the first half.

Trailing by as much as 17-8 with 4:43 left in the second quarter, the Lancers closed the half on a 13-0 run.

“I think we were able to get out into transition a little bit more,” Fletcher said. “We had some opportunities in the first, I just didn’t think we were clean on our rebounds. We got bumped around a little bit and we got away from our game. I thought defensively we were great.”

Sophomore guard Collin Rodgers opened the scoring for Deer Lakes’ run to close the second quarter with two free throws before Schaeffer hit a 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the half to tie the score at 17-17.

“Right place at the right time,” Schaeffer said. “It’s also my teammates clearing it out. Down low, Wayne and Nathaniel, they are the presence that draws everyone in. If you had seen their defense, they had to draw in against them, they had to double, so I was able to get open kick-outs, which led me to driving to the hoop, getting easier shots.”

Moore and Rodgers closed the first-half scoring with baskets, which gave the Lancers a 21-17 advantage at the break.

“It was a lot closer than we expected,” Schaeffer said. “They gave us a great battle so props to them.”

Deer Lakes never trailed in the second half, but a basket by Bennis with 1:10 left in the fourth trimmed the Lancers’ lead to just 49-47.

Burrell’s Ryan Croushore goes up for a shot against Deer Lakes in the WPIAL Class 3A boys championship Friday night at Petersen Events Center. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

After Rodgers made a free throw to make the Deer Lakes lead 52-49 with 28.9 left in the game, Burrell had a chance to tie the score but saw a 3-pointer by Maliq Buchak fall short.

“We got an open look,” Fantuzzo said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have anyone underneath at the time to get a chance at a rebound, but it’s an open look, and it just didn’t fall for us.”

Rodgers then knocked down two free throws and Schaeffer added another to ice the championship.

Deer Lakes advances to the PIAA tournament to face the fourth-place finisher in District 10, which will be the winner of Mercyhurst Prep-Fairview. Burrell will face the third-place finisher from District 6, Bishop Guillfoyle or Tyrone.

“That was a great basketball game,” Lancers senior Wayne Love said. “I think a WPIAL championship game against a hometown rival, I think that’s kind of what high school basketball is about. I think it really creates a great environment for this game. I think we are just fortunate to come out on the right side.”

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at