West Xtra: Leopards demolishing opposition on way to state title game

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Everything was falling for Lincoln Park Tuesday night -- from its shots to the Hershey's Kisses its fans were heaving from the bleachers afterward.

Needless to say, Lincoln Park got up for what was its biggest game of the season.

In one of the more dominating performances recorded in a PIAA semifinal game, Lincoln Park trounced District 6 champion Bishop Carroll, 70-28, at Hempfield.

Lincoln Park (29-1) will aim for its first PIAA title when it takes on Philadelphia Public League champion Math, Civics & Sciences (15-14) in the Class A final Friday at the Giant Center in Hershey at 2 p.m.

"It feels great," Lincoln Park's Maverick Rowan said afterward. "It's what we worked for all year, to get to Hershey."

Exactly how dominant was Lincoln Park against Bishop Carroll? Well, consider this: Rowan outscored Bishop Carroll by himself. His 32 points alone provided the difference.

Bishop Carroll was no slouch. The Huskies, at 28-0, came into the game as one of just a handful of undefeated teams in the state. Like Lincoln Park, the Huskies had beaten the majority of their opponents by hefty margins. They were coming off victories against two of the top Class A teams in the WPIAL, Monessen and North Catholic.

It simply didn't matter, as Lincoln Park was too big, too fast and too good.

"We didn't play our best game. We weren't even close," Bishop Carroll standout Brandon Martinazzi said. "They're a good team. You can't come in and not play your best and expect to compete. We didn't play our best, and they came out and they smacked us."

Even just a few minutes into the game, it didn't look like Bishop Carroll had a fighter's chance. The Huskies were hustling, but they had to work extremely hard to even get a decent look at the basket. Nothing was going in. Lincoln Park, meanwhile, looked like it was shooting into the ocean. Athletically, the two looked like they were on different levels.

In the closing minute of the first quarter, the prevalent question was, "Would Bishop Carroll be shut out in the quarter?" As it turns out, the Huskies weren't, scoring their first points with 20 seconds left to make the score 15-2.

Lincoln Park's Elijah Minnie said his team had last season's loss in the state semifinals on their minds prior to the game, so losing was not an option.

"[Bishop Carroll is] a good team, but we came out with fire," Minnie said. "We came out knowing that if we lose this game, it's just going to be another heartbreaker. We played with everything we had in us and it showed on the court."

After the lopsided first quarter, Lincoln Park used a 24-11 second-quarter edge to take a 39-13 halftime lead. The domination escalated from there. The Leopards have won their four PIAA playoff games by an average of 43 points per game.

Minnie's outstanding performance -- 10 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocked shots -- was the perfect complement to Rowan's scoring outburst. Minnie made a sizable impact defensively. Not only was he blocking shots, but he was making Bishop Carroll players hesitate when they thought about shooting near him.

Lincoln Park, which averages 84 points per game, shot 50 percent from the field (25 of 50). Nelly Cummings scored eight points, and Ryan Skovranko and Antonio Kellem had seven apiece.

But as good as Lincoln Park was offensively, it's defense might have been better. The Leopards limited Bishop Carroll to 12 field goals on 45 attempts (26 percent). Martinazzi, who was averaging 25 points per game in the PIAA playoffs, was held to 10. Marcus Lee, the team's second-leading scorer, finished with six.

One win away from a state championship, Lincoln Park now must tame the Mighty Elephants. Math, Civics & Sciences also beat a previously undefeated team in the semifinals (St. John Neumann). Much like Lincoln Park, MC&S has several future Division I players, including Penn State recruit Mike Watkins, a 6-foot-9 junior center who had 15 points and 15 rebounds in the semifinals.

This is familiar territory for Lincoln Park, which is making its third PIAA championship appearance in four years.

The Leopards only hope the final outcome will be different this time.

"We were here two out of the last three years, but haven't won yet," Lincoln Park coach Mark Javens said. "Hopefully, as the old saying goes, the third time's a charm."

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