Lincoln Park bests Midland’s streak with 6th consecutive WPIAL finals appearance

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Thursday, March 11, 2021 | 9:27 PM


Blue and gold banners hang in Lincoln Park’s gym to celebrate the great Midland teams from past decades but the new-era Leopards just one-upped their old-school counterparts.

No. 2 seed Lincoln Park is headed to the WPIAL finals for the sixth consecutive season after defeating No. 3 Montour, 65-62, in the Class 4A boys basketball semifinals Thursday night. That’s one more than Midland’s record-setting streak from the 1970s that included five straight trips to the finals in 1973-77.

Overall, it’s Lincoln Park’s 10th appearance in the team’s 14-year history.

“When we started basketball, we said that we would not dishonor the heritage of Midland and would try to keep the pedigree going,” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said. “That’s what I’m most proud of. That we have done that.”

The boys teams at Duquesne (1992-96) and Aliquippa (2003-07) also reached the WPIAL finals five consecutive times but Lincoln Park is the first with six. North Catholic owns the longest streak for girls at 18 seasons (1979-96).

Lincoln Park’s Dakari Bradford scored 20 points and L.A. Pratt had 19, but the Leopards held their breath twice in the final seconds as Montour had two chances to tie. First, Isayah Mosley’s 3-pointer from the top of the key bounced off the rim with 1 second left, and later Luke Persinger threw a full-court shot that hit the backboard at the buzzer.

“It almost hit the rim,” Pratt said. “I definitely thought it was going in. It looked good.”

Vason Stevenson led Montour (14-8) with 26 points and Mosley had 18. Elias Bishop added 15 for Lincoln Park (17-5) including a couple of key 3s.

Awaiting Lincoln Park in the finals is a championship rematch with fifth-seeded North Catholic at 8 p.m. Monday at North Allegheny.

“I’m not surprised,” Bariski said.

No. 5 seed North Catholic defeated No. 1 Belle Vernon, 77-76, in Thursday’s other semifinal. It will be the third year in a row and the fourth time in five seasons that Lincoln Park and North Catholic meet in the WPIAL finals.

Lincoln Park is 1-2 against North Catholic in the finals, including a 65-56 loss in last year’s Class 3A championship. Both teams moved up to Class 4A this winter.

“We’ve been working for this all year,” said Pratt, one of three teammates who played in last year’s finals.

But before earning a rematch with North Catholic, Lincoln Park had to defeat section foe Montour for the third time. Lincoln Park won their two regular-season contests 61-52 and 62-49.

This third matchup stayed close throughout.

Montour tried to keep Lincoln Park guessing by switching defenses often. The Spartans used nine different schemes, coach Bill Minear said, with five half-court defenses and four full-court presses.

“Our object was to try to confuse them as much as we could,” said Minear, who previously coached at Lincoln Park with Bariski. “They’re so athletic and they shoot it so well, that if you give them the same thing all of the time, they’ll adjust.”

At times it worked. Montour held freshman Brandin Cummings to eight points and only three baskets. Combined, Pratt and Cummings went 1 for 5 from beyond the arc. But Montour didn’t anticipate Bishop’s big night off the bench.

The senior went 6 for 6 shooting with three 3s.

“We played some junk and you knew something was going to be open,” Minear said, “but not him knocking down some shots, I can say that.”

Lincoln Park led 58-49 early in the fourth quarter but its lead dwindled to three points with less than 4 minutes left. Montour trailed 61-58 after a layup and foul shot by Stevenson.

In the next 90 seconds, Cummings answered with a layup for Lincoln Park, Bradford missed a dunk, Stevenson tipped in a basket for Montour, and Bradford tacked on a driving layup.

Lincoln Park led 65-60 with 2 minutes left.

A floater by Stevenson cut the margin down to three with 74 seconds left, but neither team scored the rest of the way.

Pratt missed the front of a one-and-one with 36 seconds left and Montour held for the final shot, but Mosley’s straight-on 3 missed. Lincoln Park’s Montae Reddix was fouled with 1 second left and missed a free throw, setting up Persinger’s errant heave at the buzzer.

Montour was trying to reach the WPIAL finals for the first time since 2013.

The Spartans led briefly after halftime when consecutive layups by Diaun Pinkett and Stevenson gave the Spartans a 34-32 lead.

However, tied at 36, Bradford scored on a layup with about 6 minutes left in the third to take a lead that Lincoln Park never lost. Montour trailed 51-47 after three.

Lincoln Park has now reached the finals in four classifications since joining the WPIAL in the 2007-08 season. The school’s current enrollment puts the team in Class 3A, but the PIAA competitive-balance rule moved the Leopards up to 4A this winter.

Most recently, they made the Class 3A final in 2017, ‘18, ‘19 and ‘20, after reaching the 2A championship game in 2016.

“Six in a row,” Bariski said. “That’s amazing.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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