Only an hour had passed since Lincoln Park's season ended in a 59-53 loss to Johnsonburg in a PIAA Class A semifinal Tuesday, but junior forward Ryan Skovranko had already turned the page to next season.
"He came and sat next to me on the bus and wanted to know what he could do to get better and what we as a team could do to get better and get over the hump," said Mike Bariski, an assistant basketball coach for the Leopards and the school's athletic director. "It spoke well for our future."
For the third consecutive season, the Leopards reached the PIAA Class A Final Four, but have yet to win a title after losing in the championship game the prior two years.
"We have expectations to play in the last game, but Johnsonburg played great last night," Bariski said.
"If you look at what we had to go through this season, with injuries and the situation with Elijah [Minnie], we're proud of the players and what they accomplished."
Minnie was a huge addition for Lincoln Park. A 6-foot-9 junior, he was originally ruled ineligible by first the WPIAL and the PIAA after transferring from Summit Academy before the start of the school year.
But on appeal, the PIAA overturned the ruling and Minnie took the court for the first time on Jan. 11 against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, scoring 21 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking nine shots.
The Leopards were just 6-4 before Minnie was ruled eligible, but won 13 of their next 14 games, including a 13-point victory against WPIAL Class AA champion and PIAA finalist Beaver Falls. The only loss was a one-point setback to PIAA Class AAAA qualifier Seneca Valley.
With Minnie, along with Skovranko, a 6-foot-6 forward, and 6-foot-5 freshman Maverick Rowan, the team's leading scorer at more than 25 points per game, the Leopards were the favorites to win the WPIAL title.
But they were shocked by Clairton, 71-70, in the semifinals.
"That loss to Clairton ignited something in our guys," Bariski said. "They realized they can't expect to win without playing for all 32 minutes."
Lincoln Park rebounded with wins against Kennedy Catholic, Ridgeway Area and Bishop Carroll to advance to Tuesday's PIAA semifinal at Clarion University.
Lincoln Park led by as much as seven in the second half before Johnsonburg rallied. Bariski said it was hard for the coaches to get the team back on track because of how loud the crowd was during the game.
"If there was a guy left in Johnsonburg last night, it was probably just the police chief and his dog standing on the edge of the town making sure no one got in," Bariski said.
"But it was an awesome atmosphere."
Minnie, Rowan and Skovranko, along with point guard Antonio Kellum, all are expected to return next season.
In addition, Bariski said he expects the team to be much deeper as some of the team's freshmen and a few eighth-graders from Midland expect to step into roles next season.
"We're going to be bigger, better and stronger," Bariski said. "Come Nov. 17, watch out for Lincoln Park.hsbasketball