Lincoln Park handles Hampton again to return to state championship game

Monday, March 18, 2024 | 10:58 PM

Hershey Kisses rained down on the floor for the second straight year as Lincoln Park basked in the glory of punching its ticket to the PIAA Class 4A championship game.

In a highly anticipated WPIAL championship game rematch, Lincoln Park, in dominating fashion this time, rolled past Hampton, 74-53, at North Allegheny.

The Leopards will defend their state crown when they take on Archbishop Carroll in the title game at the Giant Center on Thursday, looking to do what very few WPIAL teams have done in the past.

“You go back and think you’re used to it, but you’re not. How many teams and schools get to do this once? Once?” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said about his team reaching state championship game.

Only six WPIAL teams have won back-to-back titles, and senior Pitt commit Brandin Cummings wants to add Lincoln Park to the list.

“It’s a chance to make history again,” he said. “We’re going to enjoy the win tonight and enjoy all the chocolate, but we’ve got to get ready for that game on Thursday.”

As he’s done on the biggest stages throughout his high school career, Cummings was once again unstoppable as he scored 30 points, including five triples.

“Put a lot of shots up in practice, workouts, and shots happened to fall,” Cummings said. “When my shot is falling, that’s going to be the result every time.”

It was another impressive performance for Cummings, who also recorded a pair of blocks in consecutive defensive stands in the third quarter, and it came in front of future assistant coach Jason Capel of Pitt.

“He wants to have a legacy of being there more than twice,” Bariski said about appearing in the state title game. “Pitt should be ecstatic after seeing that.”

Cummings, per usual, was joined by Pennsylvania’s top-rated player in 2025, Meleek Thomas, as he added 18 points.

“They have outstanding players at the high school level and for us to have a chance to beat them, we would have to play a complete game, and that didn’t happen tonight,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said.

Almost identical to the Petersen Events Center matchup, Hampton relied on 6-foot-9 forward Liam Mignogna to pace the offense and get into the low post. He had a team-high 23 points, including the Talbots’ first 11 points. Following the game, he announced he will walk on to play Division I basketball at Pitt.

“Liam’s had an outstanding playoff season. He’s averaging over 20 points a game in the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs, and that’s against really good teams,” Lafko said. “He’s blossomed and continued to develop. He’s really accepted the fact that we really need his presence inside.”

As Hampton found a three-point lead in the first quarter, it came on a bucket from Mignogna that gave him 1,000 career points.

However, there was no time to relish in the achievement as Lincoln Park’s aggressive defense was forcing turnovers to start the second quarter.

A 13-0 Lincoln Park run was emphasized by a four-point play from Cummings as he was fouled behind the arc as his shot splashed in.

“My teammate Vinnie (DePaula) had it. I saw that he was struggling to find something, so I sprinted to the corner and he found me,” Cummings said. “I rose up, saw two people closing out really heavily. The shot was money. I knew that from the course of release.”

The second half was much of the same from the Leopards as they quieted down the Talbots offense. In the championship game, Cummings was tasked with covering AJ Prodente. In the state matchup, Bariski switched him to Alex Nyilas, who scored 16 in the district title contest.

In the rematch, Nyilas was held scoreless.

“Really good player. My job was to make sure he didn’t score any points. I went out there and executed,” Cummings said.

As the Leopards grew their lead over 20 points, they started to feed their forwards inside as Mikey Crawford scored 11 and Dontay Green added eight.

Not only did Green, who recently returned to game action after foot surgery that removed broken screws from a previous procedure, contribute offensively, he was also at times tasked with limiting Mignogna, who was held to six points in the second half.

“Green finally came back from surgery and that changed the game a little bit,” Bariski said. “He was playing (Mignogna) so well. That stopped what they were trying to do. They were unable to get the ball inside.”

With Hampton’s key weapon inside being neutralized, senior Peter Kramer needed to come to life after being held to six points by Thomas at the end of February.

Kramer’s three triples in the third quarter, however, were not enough to mount any comeback for the Talbots.

After Kramer’s 22-point performance closed out his high school career, he will head to Lehigh as a preferred walk-on.

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