Lincoln Park finishes WPIAL gauntlet, beats Uniontown to reach state finals

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Monday, March 20, 2023 | 10:36 PM


Lincoln Park defeated Uniontown in the PIAA 4A semifinals Tuesday, 85-64, before a standing-room crown only at Charleroi to complete the third stage of district dominance.

Stage 1: Lincoln Park suffers only one loss in the regular season and wins the Section 2-4A crown with a perfect section record.

Stage 2: Lincoln Park defeats West Mifflin, South Allegheny, Highlands and North Catholic to win the WPIAL championship.

Stage 3: Lincoln Park wins four games in the PIAA playoffs to reach the state title game by beating all District 7 teams in South Allegheny again, Highlands again, Laurel Highlands and now Uniontown.

“It was like the WPIAL playoffs, Round 2,” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said of his team’s state playoff run. “We played really good teams. Sometimes when you get in the state playoffs, there’s some inequity in the game, but there was none. These were all really good teams, and we had to battle our way to get here.”

Starting three sophomores, Uniontown knew it had to play a perfect game to compete, and the Red Raiders were able to stay with the Leopards through the first couple of minutes, trailing 9-8.

However, thanks to hot shooting from behind the arc by junior Brandin Cummings, Lincoln Park outscored Uniontown in the rest of the first quarter 18-6 to take the lead after one quarter, 27-14.

Cummings had 12 points in the opening quarter with four 3-pointers.

“We shot the ball tremendously,” Bariski said of his team’s hot start. “They were laser focused today. On our one hour and 40 minute bus ride, usually there’s music and stuff going. (Monday), not a peep.”

The Leopards shot 53% in the opening quarter, hitting on 9 of their 17 shots from the field.

“When they shoot like that, they are really tough to beat,” Uniontown coach Rob Kezmarsky said. “They also got a lot of rebounds too. They’re athletic and very good.”

There was no letdown offensively in the second quarter for Lincoln Park, as it grew the 13-point lead after one quarter into a 24-point bulge by halftime.

“We had to maintain intensity throughout the whole game,” Cummings said. “A 10-point lead in a game like this against a team that really wanted to win can be brought back down quickly, so we knew we had to keep pushing on the pedal.”

Cummings delivered one of the highlights in the second quarter when he challenged Uniontown 6-foot-6 senior Levi Garner and won with a tomahawk dunk.

Cummings ended up with a game-high 25 points for Lincoln Park while sophomore Meleek Thomas scored 20 points and senior DeAndre Moye added 15 points.

Uniontown (23-6) was led by senior Bakari Wallace, who scored 13 points, while junior Jamire Braxton and sophomore Calvin Winfrey scored 12 points each.

“Their guards are so much bigger than our guys, so we had a tough time matching up man to man,” Kezmarsky said. “We played hard and we scrambled, but they’re a good team. It’s a tough way to end, and I wish we could have played them better, but we wish them luck.”

Lincoln Park (29-1) will be shooting for its third PIAA championship Friday. The Leopards won state gold in 2014 and 2019.

They will battle District 12 champion Neumann-Goretti (26-3) in Hershey.

“We’ve been there five times. We won two and lost three,” Bariski said. “Is everybody going to be nervous? Maybe a little bit, but it’s a basketball court. It’s a big basketball court, and we like big basketball courts.”

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