Few schools in the WPIAL or even the state can rival the history of the Uniontown Red Raiders.

Over the years, Uniontown has collected eight WPIAL and four PIAA titles. Its experience playing in the state tournament actually dates back more than 100 years, as the Red Raiders won a game at the inaugural PIAA tournament in 1920.

But since finishing as the PIAA runner-up in 2002, Uniontown had not advanced past the second round of the state playoffs. Now, 21 years later, the Red Raiders find themselves a win away from playing for a PIAA title for a seventh time, and their journey has been an unlikely one to say the least.

It will be an all-WPIAL matchup in Monday’s PIAA Class 4A semifinals when Uniontown (23-5) takes on mighty Lincoln Park (28-1) at 7 p.m. at Charleroi. The winner will face either Neumann-Goretti or Bishop Shanahan in Thursday’s championship at Giant Center in Hershey.

Uniontown, which starts four underclassmen, has reached the semifinals despite finishing sixth in the WPIAL. Only seven teams from Class 4A qualify for the PIAA playoffs, so after falling to North Catholic in the WPIAL quarterfinals, Uniontown had to win a consolation game to earn one of those bids. The Red Raiders beat Belle Vernon in that game before losing to Hampton in the fifth-place consolation.

“It’s really big,” Uniontown coach Rob Kezmarsky said of advancing to the semifinals. “We’re still a really young team. We start four underclassmen. I’m happy for our seniors, too. To be playing in the game for a chance to go to Hershey, it’s something the kids are excited about. But we know we are playing a great basketball team.”

But Uniontown has played — and beaten — some pretty good ones already. The Red Raiders split a pair of meetings with Laurel Highlands during the regular season and pulled off a stunning upset of District 3 champion Berks Catholic in the first round before beating Littlestown and then WPIAL runner-up North Catholic via a buzzer-beater in the quarterfinals.

Lincoln Park, though, is more than pretty good. The Leopards, who are appearing in the semifinals for the 10th time, have won 16 games in a row since their lone loss to Central Catholic on Jan. 14. The only one of those triumphs to not come by double-digits was a 69-66 PIAA quarterfinal win against Laurel Highlands.

“It’s a really big challenge,” said Kezmarsky, who is in his 21st season. “I know most people are going to pick Lincoln Park. They’re such a talented team. Everyone knows how good they are.”

Kezmarsky is right. If Meleek Thomas and Brandin Cummings weren’t household names before the season, they are now. Both have been fantastic and each averages 23 points a game. Thomas is regarded as one of the nation’s top sophomores while Cummings is a junior who verbally committed to Pitt. But, as it showed against Laurel Highlands, Lincoln Park’s role players can really play, as well. They include senior DeAndre Moye and juniors Dontay Green and Dorian McGhee.

Lincoln Park has reached the final five times and won titles in 2014 and 2019. Much like the 2014 team that included Maverick Rowan and Elijah Minnie and finished 30-1, this Lincoln Park team has some big-name headliners.

“They were great and these guys are great,” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said. “That last team that won the state, and I’m not getting ahead of myself, those are five Division II, Division III players who played together. These are a little bit of everything and they play together. That’s the key. They like each other. They feed off each other. They’re not selfish. When guys are open, they get them the ball.”

Uniontown doesn’t have anyone who averages even 14 points a game. Instead, the Red Raiders rely on balanced scoring from a group that has grown up in a big way this season. The four double-digit scorers are sophomore Notorious Grooms (13.6 ppg), sophomore Calvin Winfrey (12.6 ppg), junior Jamire Braxton (12 ppg) and senior Bakari Wallace (10.5 ppg). Wallace was the hero of the quarterfinal win, as his 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Red Raiders a 55-54 victory.

Class 3A

While Uniontown and Lincoln Park have been in this spot many times before, the PIAA semifinal experience is all new to WPIAL champion Deer Lakes (20-8), which will play District 6 champion Penn Cambria (24-5) Tuesday at Hempfield.

Up until four seasons ago, Deer Lakes had advanced to the state tournament just once. But the Lancers claimed two PIAA wins in 2019, qualified for the tournament a second time last season, and have now strung together three consecutive PIAA wins to reach their first semifinal.

Winners of seven games in a row, Deer Lakes, under the direction of first-year coach Albie Fletcher, is fresh off a 69-56 win against Neshannock in which the Lancers fought back from a six-point halftime deficit. Senior guard Bryce Robson paced Deer Lakes with 20 points and is averaging a team-best 18 on the season. The Lancers also feature 6-foot-5 senior forward Nate Litrun and junior guards Billy Schaeffer and Aiden Fletcher.

In Penn Cambria, Deer Lakes faces a somewhat familiar foe. It was Penn Cambria that defeated Deer Lakes, 66-63, in a first-round game last season. The Panthers raced to a 16-point first-quarter lead before holding on to claim their first PIAA win in 20 years. Garrett Harrold led Penn Cambria with 23 points in that game and leads the Panthers in scoring (19 ppg) and rebounding (10.5 rpg) this season. Harrold is a 6-4 senior forward headed to play quarterback at Duquesne. The Panthers love shooting it from deep, as three players have made at least 50 3-pointers. Junior Vinny Chirdon has 85, Harrold 50 and junior Easton Semelsberger 50. Prior to this season, the Panthers had never advanced past the quarterfinals.

Class 2A

It’s tough to see Aliquippa ever being afraid of anybody, and that should hold true yet again Tuesday despite the fact the Quips take on a school whose nickname is the Terrors. The Otto-Eldred Terrors finished as the District 9 runner-up and now find themselves in the semifinals for the first time. The WPIAL champion Quips (23-6) and Terrors (26-2) will square off at Clarion University.

Aliquippa, of course, is no stranger to advancing to this point. Winners of nine consecutive games, the Quips will play in the semifinals for the 17th time, have reached the final 11 times and have captured five titles. Aliquippa, which lost to Devon Prep in last year’s Class 3A championship, is aiming to reach the PIAA championship game in both football and basketball in the same school year. It’s only happened 16 times, with the Quips doing it on four occasions.

Otto-Eldred opened the PIAA playoffs with wins against WPIAL foes Greensburg Central Catholic (67-54) and Serra Catholic (64-44) before slipping past Erie First Christian (42-40) in the quarterfinals. Braxton Caldwell, a 6-5 junior forward, scored a team-high 14 points in the most recent win. The Terrors were the No. 1 seed in the District 9 playoffs before losing to Clarion-Limestone in the championship.

Class 1A

It will be a WPIAL championship rematch when Imani Christian (21-6) tangles with Union (25-3) Monday at North Allegheny. Imani Christian topped Union, 64-41, in the WPIAL final back on March 2. That came a year after Imani Christian beat the Scotties in the WPIAL semifinals. Imani Christian is making its debut in the PIAA semifinals while Union is here for the second time. The Scotties lost in the final in 2003.

In the WPIAL finals matchup, Union hung with Imani Christian for little more than a half before the Saints finished strong to march to the win. Union led by two points early in the fourth, but it was pretty much all Imani Christian from there. The Saints outscored the Scotties, 40-20, in the second half. Junior Dame Givner led Imani Christian with 17 points and senior Matthew Stanley paced Union with 19 points. Both players lead their respective teams in scoring. Givner averages 17 points a game and Stanley 16.

Following Imani Christian’s win, Union coach Mark Stanley made some comments at the press conference that led to quite the stir on social media. Stanley didn’t mince words when talking about a Saints team that has added several key players via transfer the past two seasons. Said Stanley, “What can you do? They’re not cheating, but it’s not fair. It’s not right.”

When asked Saturday what he thought about Stanley’s comments, Imani Christian coach Omar Foster wasn’t about to add any fuel to the fire.

“I don’t know, that’s his opinion,” Foster said. “I don’t want to get caught up in that. I’ve never had anything bad to say about Coach Stanley and that group.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.