In the end, Lincoln Park too much for North Catholic in Class 4A WPIAL title game
Friday, March 3, 2023 | 10:38 PM
Lincoln Park’s Brandin Cummings and Meleek Thomas hear praise from many places, but on this championship night, the best accolades came from the coach of the other team.
The coach who tried everything to stop them.
“You’re talking about the two best players in the area,” North Catholic coach Jim Rocco said. “I believe that.”
On this night, no one could argue.
Thomas finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds, Cummings scored 22, and the dynamic duo led top-seeded Lincoln Park to a 78-68 victory Friday night over No. 6 North Catholic in the WPIAL Class 4A championship at Petersen Events Center.
The Leopards’ two stars took turns carrying the team.
Cummings, a junior playing on his future college court, scored 12 consecutive points for his team in one first-half stretch. Thomas came alive later with 18 points after halftime and fueled Lincoln Park’s strong fourth quarter.
They’re surely the most-talented tandem in the WPIAL, but Rocco ranked them top two individually.
“I believe that Cummings will be in a position to get significant minutes for the University of Pittsburgh in the ACC as a freshman,” Rocco said. “Meleek is a Top 10 player in the country. … And they’re humble guys. They play hard. Both of them come through the line and say, ‘I appreciate you coach.’ Who does that?”
Yet, North Catholic didn’t just concede.
The Trojans led by one point late in the third quarter, before Cummings responded with a runner to lead 53-52. Thomas later opened the fourth quarter with consecutive baskets.
North Catholic never regained the lead, despite a game-high 32 points by senior Andrew Maddalon.
“I give North Catholic all of the credit in the world,” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said. “They try to play faster than us. We try to play fast, but they try to speed us up. We got a lead, they caught us. We got a lead, they caught us. They took the lead, but we stayed steady, and these two guys carried us.”
Cummings went 9 for 14 shooting, and Thomas finished 9 for 16.
The WPIAL title was the sixth for Lincoln Park, all since 2012.
The Leopards tried to pull away several times and ended the first quarter with a 27-17 lead, but each time North Catholic reeled them in. Lincoln Park led 39-33 at half and 55-54 after three.
Max Hurray added 19 points for North Catholic (19-7), and DeAndre Moye had 12 for Lincoln Park (25-1). The teams share a section, and Lincoln Park also won both regular-season matchups.
Turnovers hurt North Catholic in the finals. The Trojans committed 19 and Lincoln Park converted them into 30 points.
“We turned it over too much,” Rocco said. “When you do that too much and give live-ball opportunities to that level of a team, they capitalize on everything just because of their elite ability.”
This was the fifth time these teams met in a WPIAL championship and Lincoln Park improved to 3-2 in those games.
Cummings’ brother Nelly, a Pitt guard, and the Panthers’ coaching staff already were out of town for Saturday’s game in Miami. But the future Pitt player knew there were other eyes on him.
He’s shot in Pitt’s arena before, so it was a comfortable place.
“I know a lot of people are going to come out and see me play,” Cummings said. “Everybody knows I’m a Pitt commit. I really just wanted to put on a show for my fans and my family — especially in my future home.”
Pitt is also recruiting Thomas, but the 6-foot-4 guard has a growing list of offers. ESPN ranks him as the fourth-best sophomore prospect in the country. His latest offer came from Villanova.
Thomas struggled to find his shot in the first half, making only three of his first eight attempts. In hindsight, Thomas said, he should’ve been more patient and picked better shots.
A quick chat with Cummings boosted his confidence.
“I came to him after missing a few shots,” said Thomas, who promised Cummings he’d turn it around. “He was like, ‘I know. It’s basketball. You’re going to miss shots. But it’s your effort and your heart and what you can control.’”
Thomas made 6 of 8 shots after halftime.
“They play off of each other,” Bariski said. “That’s what’s great about those two. They pick each other up.”
Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
Tags: Lincoln Park, North Catholic
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