Dontay Green said he had a feeling it was going to be his day.
“From the time we got Chick-fil-A on the bus ride, I’m thinking, ‘Today has got to be my day. I’ve got to step my game up,” said Green, Lincoln Park’s 6-foot-5 junior forward. “I like to have fun and make sure my teammates have fun, but today was all serious. Get the job done and get the win.”
Lincoln Park has been on a roll all season with its fabulous duo of Brandin Cummings and Meleek Thomas making most of the headlines, but on Friday, the Leopards leaned on role players to earn their 10th PIAA semifinal berth since joining the WPIAL in 2007.
In a much-hyped matchup played in front of a large crowd, Lincoln Park led by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter before hanging on to defeat Laurel Highlands, 62-59, in a PIAA Class 4A semifinal at Norwin High School.
Lincoln Park (28-1), the WPIAL champion, will take on Uniontown in Monday’s semifinals, while Laurel Highlands finished its season 24-4. The Mustangs were looking to reach the semifinals for the first time since winning their only title in 1968.
Much like when the teams met in late December (a 70-66 Lincoln Park win), the stars showed up and showed out. Thomas scored 23 points and Cummings had 13, while Laurel Highlands got 33 points from Rodney Gallagher and 25 from Keondre DeShields in their final high school game. But it was the play of Lincoln Park’s role players that was the difference in the rematch. Take the four big stars out of the mix, and Lincoln Park held a whopping 33-7 scoring edge. Green scored 13 points, DeAndre Moye added 11, Dorian McGhee had six and Rashan Farrow-Russel three.
“They were huge and they were telling me before the game, ‘This is going to be the game where we pop out,’” said Cummings, a Pitt recruit who earlier in the day watched brother Nelly help lead Pitt to an NCAA tournament win. “I’m like, ‘Go ahead because we need it. We need everything you can give. Bring it.’ They went out and gave everything they had. They were the reason we won this game.”
Cummings may have not done a ton of scoring, but he came up clutch defensively in the final seconds when Laurel Highlands was trying to get off a game-tying 3-pointer. Lincoln Park led, 68-60, when Cummings made two free throws with 35 seconds left, but Gallagher knocked down a 3 and, after Thomas missed two free throws, Gallagher’s three-point play pulled the Mustangs within two with 16 seconds left. Russel followed by making 1 of 2 free throws and Lincoln Park led by three with 14 seconds to go.
Lincoln Park then extended its defense to midcourt and Cummings tipped a Gallagher pass and a DeShields pass, which created confusion and ran extra time off the clock before the ball went out of bounds off Lincoln Park. Laurel Highlands inbounded with less than a second left from beyond halfcourt, and Patrick Cavanagh misfired on a desperation heave at the buzzer.
“I knew if I got my hands on the ball, maybe I would tip it and take some time off the clock, and that’s exactly what we did,” Cummings said. “I just wanted to be active and to make sure I could make a play for my team in that situation.”
Other Class 4A
• Bakari Wallace connected on a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Uniontown (23-5), the WPIAL’s sixth-place finisher, to a 55-54 win against WPIAL runner-up North Catholic (21-8) at Charleroi. Jamire Braxton scored 23 points and Notorious Grooms chipped in 10 for Uniontown, which advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2002. The Red Raiders trailed North Catholic by four at the half before outscoring the Trojans, 12-5, in the third quarter. Max Hurray led North Catholic with 29 points and Andrew Maddalon had 15.
• WPIAL champion Penn Hills (23-4) and District 10 champion Cathedral Prep (24-3) were tied at the half, but Cathedral Prep toppled the Indians, 68-54, at Sharon. Cathedral Prep, which beat South Fayette and Mars from the WPIAL in the previous two rounds, was led by Semontae Lofton (23 points) and Amaree Pickens (19). The Ramblers outrebounded Penn Hills, 38-24, and outscored the Indians, 44-30, in the second half. For Penn Hills, Noah Barren scored 13 points, Daemar Kelly 12, Julian Dugger 11 and Robert Thomas 10. Penn Hills was attempting to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2004.
• Peters Township (24-5), the WPIAL runner-up, coughed up an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead and lost to District 3 champion Exeter (25-7), 75-72, in overtime at Bald Eagle. Peters Township led, 62-54, midway through the fourth before Exeter went on an 11-3 run to force overtime. The Indians had possession in the final seconds of overtime with an opportunity to tie the score but fell short. Nate Miller scored 19 points and Jack Dunbar and Brendan McCullough had 16 apiece for Peters Township, which was trying to advance to the semifinals for the first time in school history. Zyion Paschall paced Exeter with 21 points, and Kevin Saenz had 19.
• R.J. Sledge poured in a game-high 29 points to push WPIAL champion Imani Christian (21-6) into the semifinals for the first time in school history with an 80-50 win against District 10 champion Farrell (22-5) at North Allegheny. Imani Christian led, 24-12, after one quarter and by 20 points after three quarters. Virgil Hall added 21 points for the Saints and Alier Maluk had 10, while Lamont Samuels paced Farrell with 10 points. Imani Christian will face Union in Monday’s semifinals. The Saints beat Union, 64-41, in the WPIAL final.
• WPIAL runner-up Union (25-3) reached its first semifinal since 2003, rolling to a 75-55 win against WPIAL third-place qualifier Carlynton (19-8) at North Allegheny. Union led, 41-19, at the half after shooting 52% from the field. The mercy-rule went into effect in the third quarter when Union extended its advantage to 30. Matt Stanley scored 24 points for Union. Jaiden McClure tallied 15 points, including the 1,000th of his career, for Carlynton. The Cougars were seeking their first berth in the semifinals since 1992.
Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.