HERSHEY, Pa. -- The message might have been hard to get through, but Mark Javens kept trying.
His Lincoln Park team had dominated overmatched opponents this season and even well into the playoffs, winning games by an average of 38 points. But he knew it couldn't stay that way. At least once, it would have to be challenged and, when it was, it would have to respond.
In the PIAA Class A championship, facing a fellow charter school with a similar (and uncharacteristically high) level of Division I talent, that stiff test finally came.
Lincoln Park wins Class A state championship
Lincoln Park defeated Math, Civics and Science of Philadelphia, 70-66, in Hershey to win State Championship. (Video by Andrew Rush; 3/21/2014)
But, in a rare moment of adversity, the Leopards turned to their star, who helped carry them to a PIAA championship.
Sophomore Maverick Rowan scored 37 points and hit four late free throws to seal a 70-66 victory for Lincoln Park against Math, Civics and Sciences Charter School Friday at Giant Center, a game in which the Leopards (30-1) trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half.
"Our coach just told us, 'They hit you in the mouth -- now it's time to hit them back in mouth,' " Lincoln Park forward Elijah Minnie said. "Coming into this game, we knew it was going to be a fight. We didn't expect it to be 16 points, but we knew it was going to be a dog fight and that's exactly what we got."
The PIAA championship is the first in the program's history. The Leopards appeared in the PIAA title game in 2011 and 2012, but lost them both, the former of which came against the Mighty Elephants (15-15).
Lincoln Park had won its previous four PIAA playoff games by a combined 179 points, but it was immediately clear that this one would be different.
Buoyed by guard Samir Doughty and forward Mike Watkins -- who had 16 and 11 first half points -- MCS Charter rushed out to a 31-15 lead with 4:40 remaining in the second quarter.
Rarely tested and tried in a season where things seemingly came so easy, the Leopards appeared to be flustered and out of rhythm, missing 19 of their first 27 shots.
The coach who had warned them about this situation preached patience in a trying time.
"We just said one basket it at a time," Javens said. "We were coming down offensively, throwing the ball around, not getting in our sets, so I said, 'Listen, we just can't come down and play streetball -- we have to be patient and we have to be disciplined.' That's what we did."
Lincoln Park rallied to get within five at halftime, but near the end of the third quarter, the Mighty Elephants pushed their lead to 12.
In the fourth quarter, though, they went cold, making only 4 of 21 field goals. The Leopards took advantage, taking the lead for good with two free throws from Rowan with 2:37 remaining.
"I think we came out and punched them in the face because they haven't seen as talented of a team as us," MCS Charter coach Dan Jackson said. "But they weathered the storm, they settled down and fought back. They showed they have the recipe for knowing how to win."
Doughty led MCS Charter with 26 points while Watkins, a Penn State recruit, had 17 points and 17 rebounds.
Despite a subpar shooting performance, Minnie added 8 points, 8 rebounds and 9 blocks for Lincoln Park, which was finally able to add a PIAA title to its gaudy resume over the past several years.
"This is what we wanted to do," Rowan said. "The last two times we came up here -- I wasn't on the team then -- we lost, but we're taking the trophy home this time."
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
First Published March 21, 2014 4:18 PM