A year ago, when an underdog Bishop Carroll boys basketball team met WPIAL power Lincoln Park deep in the PIAA playoffs, the Huskies came within a last-second, long-range shot of a huge upset.
The state’s top-ranked Lincoln Park made sure there was no doubt about the outcome on Tuesday night.
The Leopards scored the first 15 points of a PIAA Class A semifinal playoff against Bishop Carroll and used their size and strength inside and out to defeat the state’s third-ranked Huskies 70-28 at Hempfield High School.
The District 7 champions will play in the state championship game against Math, Civics & Science Charter School on Friday at Hershey’s Giant Center. District 6 and LHAC champion Bishop Carroll had its historic undefeated season end at 28-1.
“This season will never be duplicated,” Bishop Carroll coach Cosie Aliquo said. “Not by me. Not by them. Great group, on and off the court. I’ll never base this season on one game. No.
“For right now, we’re disappointed. But when they wake up tomorrow and realize what they accomplished this year, it’s a great group, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.”
The Leopards (30-1) built first-half leads of 15-2 and 39-13 at intermission. They never were threatened, which was opposite of the 2013 quarterfinal in which Carroll lost 86-84 and had the last shot that almost was good.
“Last year playing Carroll in the quarterfinals, we were up 20, they came back and took the lead by five,” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said. “We know they were 28-0. Anytime you win 28 games and don’t lose any, you’re a very good team, a well-coached team.”
Lincoln Park’s starting lineup included 6-foot-7 sophomore Maverick Rowan (32 points), 6-9 senior Elijah Minnie (10 points, 14 rebounds, four blocked shots), and 6-6 senior Ryan Skovranko (seven points, six rebounds).
“They’re a really athletic team, and obviously they had the height advantage,” said Carroll senior captain Marcus Lee, who had six points and two rebounds before fouling out with 3:34 left in the third. “With their length they have the ability to run a very good zone (defense). We just had problems attacking it early on. Later in the game we were successful attacking it.”
The Leopards used their height advantage and a mix of pressure and zone defense to prevent Carroll from getting good looks or easy passes.
“We didn’t play our best game,” said Huskies junior guard Brandon Martinazzi, who had a team-high 10 points. “We weren’t even close. Hey, they’re a good team. You can’t come in and not play our best and expect to compete. We didn’t play our best, and they came out and smacked us.
“What can you say? It’s been a great ride, 28-1. We have nothing to hang our heads about.”
Lincoln Park’s Rowan had 10 points in the opening quarter, including his basket with 1:07 showing that made it 15-0.
The Huskies were held without a basket nearly the entire quarter. Lee scored inside with 20.5 seconds on the clock.
Lee, who scored 16 points in last year’s two-point PIAA quarterfinal playoff loss to Lincoln Park, had his third personal foul with 5:24 left in the half, and then picked up his fourth foul with 3:17 showing the Huskies already down 30-11.
“He’s 6-foot-6, and they’re 28-0 coming in, so having him on the bench really helped us,” Bariski said.
The Leopards opened up a 39-11 advantage on Renell Cummings’ 3-pointer with 1:10 remaining in the first half.
“We came out and played our half-court, three-quarter press and dropped back in our zone defense,” Bariski said. “We got a couple steals, got some layups. We went from there. Anytime you go up 15-0 that’s like punching the other team in the gut.”
Lincoln Park controlled the boards from the outset, grabbing 14 first-half rebounds, double the Huskies.
Minnie blocked three shots and had seven rebounds in the opening half.
A year ago, Minnie put up 42 points and 18 rebounds against Carroll.
Rowan’s 3-pointer at 5:45 of the third pushed the margin to 32 points, 45-13.
“Their defense was awesome,” Aliquo said. “Their length was phenomenal and they close out really well. Their size to our size, they had a pretty good advantage.”
This will be Lincoln Park’s third trip to the state title game in four seasons.
“We’ve been there two of the last three years and we haven’t won one yet,” Bariski said. “Hopefully, as they say, the third time is a charm and we can do some good damage there.”
Bishop Carroll won’t be playing Friday, but the Huskies will have plenty to reflect upon once the sting of the semifinal loss subsides.
“It’s just one game,” Lee said. “It’s our only loss. Otherwise, our season was a success. We did what we wanted to do and accomplished our goals other than a state championship.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.