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Deer Lakes boys lead A-K Valley basketball teams as No. 1 seed in WPIAL Class 3A


Monday, February 12, 2024 | 6:09 PM

The Deer Lakes boys basketball team now knows its path to a defense of its WPIAL Class 3A championship.

The Lancers and 167 other boys and girls teams found out their postseason fates Monday afternoon as the 12 playoff brackets were revealed on TribLive HSSN.

The champion of Section 3-3A, Deer Lakes is the No. 1 seed and will host No. 16 Sto-Rox (10-12) at 7 p.m. Monday.

“The guys are very excited,” Lancers coach Albie Fletcher said. “We started the season off with the goal of winning the section and also getting back to the Pete. We got the section title, and now we know the process as we faced it last year. A lot of these guys are battle-tested from last year.”

Deer Lakes enters the playoffs 17-4 overall. The Lancers’ only losses came to higher-classification Kiski Area, Knoch, and Highlands along with Friday’s setback to Shady Side Academy that spoiled the Lancers’ attempt to run the table in the section.

“We’ve been healthy the past couple of weeks after having some issues early with guys not 100 percent from football and some other things along the way,” Fletcher said.

“Some really good competition, especially down the stretch in and out of the conference, really helped us, and we’re in a good position to start the playoffs.”

All 12 championship games will be at Petersen Events Center on Feb. 29 through March 2.

Deer Lakes, along with Fox Chapel, the No. 8 seed in Class 5A, are in the playoffs for the eighth straight season.

Those long streaks are second in the Alle-Kiski Valley only to Highlands, which is in the WPIAL playoffs for the 10th year in a row. The Golden Rams, the No. 3 team from Section 1-4A and the No. 11 seed, will open their tournament on the road Friday at No. 6 Avonworth (15-7).

Highlands capped the regular season Monday at Kiski Area.

“I kind of figured after we lost to Knoch on Friday that we were going to fall to that seed range,” Golden Rams coach Corey Dotchin said.

“That game was big in that it was the difference in probably hosting a playoff game or having to go on the road for the first round. But once you get past that first game, everything is neutral. We have an experienced group which has been in a lot of playoff games, so the guys will be ready.”

Knoch (14-7), the eighth seed in Class 4A, hosts Beaver Area at 7 p.m. Friday.

Fox Chapel, two years removed from winning it all in Class 6A, opens this year’s tournament as the eighth seed in Class 5A. The Foxes host North Hills at 8 p.m. Monday.

Kiski, the No. 12 seed in Class 5A, visits Peters Township at 7 p.m. Monday, and Burrell, No. 11 in Class 3A, will face No. 6 Seton LaSalle at 6 p.m. Monday at Thomas Jefferson.

The Bucs took rival Deer Lakes to the limit last Tuesday at home before falling 51-48.

Freeport, a WPIAL playoff qualifier along with Kiski and Burrell for the fourth straight year, has the unenviable task of facing No. 1 Lincoln Park at 7 p.m. Friday.

Lincoln Park, winner of 11 in a row, is the defending WPIAL and PIAA champs in Class 4A.


Highlands and St. Joseph are separated by about 500 feet in Natrona Heights, and their proximity is just one similarity.

The Golden Rams and Spartans both feature a core of four senior starters, and they also have playoff paths that take them straight to the quarterfinals of their respective brackets.

A semifinalist the past two years, St. Joseph (19-2) again is hoping to make it to the Pete. The Spartans are the No. 3 seed in Class A and will await the Bishop CanevinMapletown winner for a home game Feb. 22.

St. Joseph, in the playoffs for the fifth year in a row, wrapped up the regular season Monday at Shady Side Academy.

“We talked the other day about them making a name for themselves two years ago by beating Rochester,” coach Geoff Dutelle said.

“In two years, the girls have basically flipped roles and are no longer the underdog. They are one of the top seeds with Union and Aquinas. If they lose focus for a second, they could be on the other side of the script before they know it. They are the hunted now. They have to be ready. It’s the playoffs, and anything can happen.”

Highlands (16-6) also has a long wait before playing its Class 4A quarterfinal game Feb. 23 against Laurel Highlands or Quaker Valley. Golden Rams coach Shawn Bennis said workouts and scrimmages against some top area teams will have his team prepared.

“We’re appreciative of the bye and being in the quarterfinals,” Bennis said. “We also played a challenging out-of-conference schedule, and that’s what we were hoping for. I think strength of schedule helped us with playing some quality section teams. The four playoff teams all had winning records, including out of conference. If you come out of our section, you’re prepared for the playoffs.”

Knoch (12-9) tied Greensburg Salem for third behind Highlands and No. 2 North Catholic in Section 1. The No. 6 Knights host No. 11 Belle Vernon at 7 p.m. Feb. 20.

Riverview and Knoch own the longest streak of girls playoff appearances in the A-K Valley at seven. The Raiders, runner-up to St. Joseph in Section 3-A, also have a bye into the quarterfinals and know they will face a familiar foe at home Feb. 22.

Monessen (16-5), which fell to Riverview, 50-25, on Feb. 3, hosts Raiders section rival Leechburg (8-10) in the first round Monday.

Plum (13-8), which lost out on the Section 1-5A title to Indiana, is set to turn its focus to a road matchup against No. 8 North Hills at 7 p.m. Feb. 20.

Section rivals Burrell (16-4) and Apollo-Ridge (8-13) are in the same quadrant of the Class 3A bracket.

The Section 3 runner-up Bucs face No. 8 Keystone Oaks at noon Saturday at South Park High School, and the Vikings (8-13) visit No. 1 Avonworth (19-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at [email protected].

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