Lincoln Park digs out of deep hole to beat Uniontown in PIAA 4A 2nd round

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Tuesday, March 12, 2024 | 11:25 PM


The Lincoln Park Leopards showed why they have a heart of a champion.

After being smacked in the mouth early by a hungry Uniontown team, the defending PIAA Class 4A champions did not blink. Instead, they climbed back in and took the lead for good in the fourth quarter to advance to the state quarterfinals with a 66-62 comeback win Tuesday night.

“We stayed composed and started fighting with a purpose,” Lincoln Park senior Brandin Cummings said. “We got punched in the face early, accepted it and started fighting like the championship team we are.”

The start of the game had big upset written all over it.

Lincoln Park looked dazed as Uniontown ran up and down the floor and scored at will.

The Red Raiders scored 14 unanswered points to turn a 5-4 lead into a jaw dropping 19-4 advantage.

The opening quarter ended with Uniontown leading, 23-9.

“Our guys thought this was going to be easier than the last time, and I told them this was going to be harder,” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said. “They figured out this was going to be way harder.”

“At the quarter, we talked about changing some things up. Switching back and forth caused them some problems. We thought if we didn’t switch anything, we would be fine, but that didn’t work.”

The Leopards came out in the second quarter and alternated between a man-to-man half-court defense and a zone.

That move threw off the Red Raiders and the confusion led to missed shots and turnovers, two things Uniontown rarely did in the opening quarter.

“That zone, what we did last time we had it, we tried to give them the baseline. This time, we did not,” Bariski said. “We knew where the cut was going to come from and we covered it. So once we understood they were going to keep doing it, we switched to something else.”

The script of the game switched in the second quarter as Lincoln Park chipped away, picked up momentum and went to the locker room only down one point, 32-31.

In the first quarter, Uniontown outscored Lincoln Park, 23-9. In the second quarter, the Leopards outscored the Red Raiders, 22-9.

The third quarter was a back-and-forth affair in which there seven lead changes and two ties, including a 47-47 deadlock heading into the final quarter.

Uniontown scored the first point of the fourth quarter on a K’Adrian McLee free throw, but Lincoln Park scored on its next possession to take a one-point lead, a lead it never lost the rest of the way.

“Defensively, that’s how we won that game,” Bariski said. “Everybody talks about our offense, and we had great offense (Tuesday), but we won that game because we played some defense.”

This is the second year in a row that Uniontown has seen its season end at the hands of Lincoln Park in the state playoffs.

Last year, the Leopards rolled past the Red Raiders in the PIAA semifinals, 85-64. Lincoln Park also defeated Uniontown in the district semifinals this season, 74-63.

Uniontown (23-5) had a balanced attack led by senior Jamire Braxton, who scored 14 points. McLee, a senior, scored 13 points, senior Jeremiah Hager and junior Calvin Winfrey had 11 points each, and junior Notorious Grooms had 10.

“We played really well early and I’m proud of their effort,” Uniontown coach Rob Kezmarsky said. “They have Division I players that made great plays.”

Senior Brandin Cummings started slow but was scorching hot in the second half for the Leopards.

“He yelled at me he’s back,” Bariski said. “He was sick for seven games and scored 14 or 16 points and for him, it’s like some guys going out and scoring two. He’s putting the extra time in that he always does and when he was sick, he couldn’t do it. He’s a force to be reckoned with along with Meleek (Thomas).”

Cummings was scoreless in the rough first quarter for Lincoln Park but scored 20 of his 32 points in the second half.

“The key was to just be Brandin Cummings. That’s who I am,” Cummings said. “I got the opportunity to showcase my full ability because my teammates put their trust in me.”

Thomas, a junior, scored 24 points and late in the game, he walked around the court reminding his teammates they had three more wins to go.

Lincoln Park (25-3) will face a familiar foe Friday when it takes on section rival North Catholic in the quarterfinals.

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