Freeport and Deer Lakes had their WPIAL playoff spots locked up weeks ago, so the former section rivals’ meeting in their regular-season finale provided a last opportunity for postseason preparation.
Situational basketball can loom large in the playoffs, and Freeport leaned on its defensive calling card when it needed one final stop. The Class 4A No. 4 Yellowjackets kept Deer Lakes from getting a clean shot off at the buzzer, emerging with a 41-39 victory in a nonsection game Monday night.
“All season, defense has been really important to us, so on the last possession we were just completely focusing on getting that stop and just making sure they couldn’t get a shot off so we could get the win,” Freeport junior Samantha Clark said.
Clark played a pivotal role on the final sequence, which began with 9.1 seconds on the clock and Deer Lakes down two. She had on-ball defense against Deer Lakes guard Victoria Keibler, who took a pass from point guard Aris Hasley with 5.4 seconds on the clock and tried to drive. Harley Holloway came over to play help defense, and she, Clark and forward Haley Graham denied Keibler’s attempted pass to the post as the buzzer sounded.
“We just needed to pressure the ball when they got it in to hopefully kill the clock,” Freeport coach Fred Soilis said. ” … I give (Deer Lakes) a lot of credit, and I wish them luck in the playoffs.”
Freeport’s defense, which held an opponent below 40 points for the 11th time this season, helped the Yellowjackets (18-4) overcome what Soilis viewed as an inconsistent offensive effort. Clark and Holloway scored 13 points and made three 3-pointers apiece for Freeport, but the Yellowjackets committed eight turnovers in the first quarter and went long stretches without a field goal.
“We want to go out making sure that we’re firing on all cylinders and not just go in lackadaiscal,” Soilis said.
“The thing that we need to be consistent about is the turnovers, and not have them. I’m not expecting my kids to have a perfect, turnover-free game, but we can’t have six straight turnovers in four minutes and let them get back in the game. That’s not acceptable.”
Deer Lakes’ own strong defense helped the Lancers (16-6) hang around in a game where their offense struggled at times. The Lancers kept the game within six points or fewer throughout the second half.
“The biggest thing that I hope they take away is that we’re learning from this, we’re growing from this,” Deer Lakes coach Dave Petruska said. “That’s a tough 4A team that finished second (in its section) behind (No. 1) North Catholic, and we just lost to them by two. That’s all I can ask for, other than obviously the win, but the fight’s there. That’s one thing I know I’m very excited to take into the playoffs.”
Freeport led 8-0 not even 90 seconds into the game after Clark hit a pair of 3s and Holloway made a jumper, but Deer Lakes rallied to take a 14-12 lead after the first quarter. Deer Lakes’ defense keyed the 14-4 run, with Anna Solomon scoring a pair of layups off steals.
Then it was Freeport’s turn to increase the defensive intensity: The Yellowjackets went with a 2-1-2 trapping defense in the second quarter. With three Deer Lakes starters on the bench due to foul trouble in the quarter, Freeport held the Lancers without a field goal until just over a minute remained before halftime. Holloway scored all eight of Freeport’s points in the quarter, giving the Yellowjackets a 20-16 lead at halftime.
The teams mostly traded baskets during the second half. The Yellowjackets led by three points after the third quarter, with Solomon hitting a pair of 3s to keep it close for Deer Lakes, and the fourth quarter played much the same way. Solomon’s third 3 of the game made it 39-37 with 3:27 remaining. After Sidney Shemanski hit a pair of free throws for Freeport, Deer Lakes cut it to two on a steal and Solomon layup, giving the senior a game-high 17 points.
Graham missed a free throw, giving Deer Lakes its final opportunity, but it went for naught.
“If the first thing that I draw up doesn’t work, we’re able to work around it,” Petruska said. “For a split second, it looked like something was going to work out. It didn’t happen, but I can’t fault our effort.”
Freeport and Deer Lakes will find out their first-round playoff opponents Tuesday night at the WPIAL’s annual pairings meeting in Green Tree.
“I thought we could have played better,” Clark said, “but we’re just really glad to get the win for our last game.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at [email protected] or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.