Even for a school with a tradition as rich as Aliquippa’s, these Quips continue to raise the bar to unprecedented heights.

Facing Fort Cherry for the second time in three weeks, back-to-back WPIAL Class 2A champion Aliquippa clinched its third consecutive trip to the PIAA championship game with a 65-53 victory at Pine-Richland High School on Tuesday night. Unlike the lopsided 19-point loss in their previous meeting in the WPIAL semifinals on Feb. 27, the Rangers (23-7) kept things competitive well into the second half this time around. But in the end, Fort Cherry simply couldn’t keep up with the Quips’ raw talent, athleticism and sheer will to win.

“We kind of were sleepwalking through the first half. Then we started to settle in,” said Aliquippa coach Nick Lackovich. “You can’t take anything away from them. They played hard and they played well. They’ve got a good, solid team.”

After falling behind, 15-9, after the opening quarter, the Quips (24-5) quickly turned the tables in the second quarter behind a barrage of buckets from senior forward Cameron Lindsey. A 13-1 run helped Aliquippa take a lead it would never relinquish, and the Quips’ cushion swelled to seven going into the half at 32-25. The Rangers managed to keep things close throughout the third, at one point cutting the deficit to four at 45-41, but Aliquippa pulled away in the fourth quarter to seal the deal.

“It’s definitely easier said than done,” Lindsey said about making it to three consecutive state finals in football and basketball. “The first time, it felt kind of surreal, because it was like a dream. Then last year, we made it [in both], and making it here for the third year in a row, it’s still a great feeling, but we’ve still got one more game to go.”

Aliquippa’s Cameron Lindsey and Fort Cherry’s Shane Cornali battle for a rebound in the PIAA Class 2A semifinals on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, at Pine Richland High School. Lindsey tallied 19 points and 10 rebounds as Aliquippa won, 65-53. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The 2023 PUP Football Player of the Year, Lindsey continued his stellar senior season for the Quips, posting another double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds while contesting and redirecting shots any time Fort Cherry tried to drive into the paint. The Pitt recruit’s trademark intensity as a hard-hitting linebacker in football carries over seamlessly to the hardwood, where the multi-sport star patrols the paint as one of the most feared rim protectors in the WPIAL.

“He’s huge for us,” Lackovich said. “Pretty much what I’ve seen from day one as a ninth grader all the way until now. He’s just a competitor. He plays really hard.”

Senior point guard Derek Errett led all scorers with 20 points for the Rangers, and junior guard Shane Cornali tacked on 16 points in the season-ending defeat. Senior point guard Quentin “Cheese” Goode and sophomore guard Josh Pratt tallied 12 points apiece for Aliquippa, providing Lindsey with plenty of secondary scoring support.

Having already made three consecutive trips to the state finals in football while winning PIAA Class 4A titles in 2021 and 2023, the Quips are trying to add another PIAA championship to their increasingly crowded trophy case. This will be Aliquippa’s 13th appearance in the PIAA basketball championship game, holding an all-time record of 5-7. The Quips also have won five PIAA titles in 10 trips to the state finals in football, but they have not won a PIAA title in basketball since completing an undefeated season in 2015-16.

“[I’ve been thinking about it] since the last time I won one,” Lackovich said. “That’s the goal every year.”

Aliquippa coach Nick Lackovich has his alma mater in the state finals for the fifth time in seven seasons at the helm after a 65-53 win against Fort Cherry in the PIAA Class 2A semifinals on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, at Pine Richland High School. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

In seven years at the helm across two separate stints, Lackovich has guided his alma mater to a record of 160-35 with five WPIAL titles and five trips to the PIAA championship game, winning one state title during the aforementioned unbeaten season in 2015-16. After losing to Devon Prep in the 2022 finals and Lancaster Mennonite in 2023, Aliquippa’s opponent in the state title game at 2 p.m. Friday will be District 2 champion Holy Cross (24-3), which advanced with a 78-66 win against District 12 champion Constitution.

“We’re excited for the win and we’re happy about it, but come tomorrow, when we walk in that gym for practice, it’s gone. It’s totally focused on the state championship,” Lackovich said. “We’ve been to the last two with basically the same core guys, and this is their last go-round. We’ve got to make it happen.”

Fueled by a cohesive nucleus of fearless competitors who each know their roles and play them well, this senior class has a strong argument to go down as the most decorated class in school history when combining both football and basketball accomplishments. The Quips had never reached three consecutive state finals in football until this year, and now they have done it for the first time in basketball, too — having won three consecutive WPIAL titles in football while capturing back-to-back WPIAL titles in basketball.

Still, Lindsey and his teammates know that if they want to cement their legacy forever, all those accolades won’t mean a thing without one more state championship ring.

“Resume-wise, I think we probably have the best class ever,” Lindsey said. “The only thing we need is that we’ve got to go out there and win it on Friday.”

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

Steve Rotstein

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