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PIAA 4A: Meleek Thomas lifts Lincoln Park to title over Neumann-Goretti

03/24/2023, 12:45am EDT
By Sean McBryan

Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)

Neumann-Goretti watched Lincoln Park sophomore guard Meleek Thomas’ runner float through the air with 11 seconds left before it sank the Saints’ quest for its second straight state title.

It resulted in the second heartbreaking loss for Neumann-Goretti in a championship game this season, following its loss to Roman Catholic in the PCL title game nearly a month ago.

DeAndre Moye (1) celebrates with a teammate after Lincoln Park beat Neumann-Goretti for the PIAA 4A title on Thursday night. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

“We’re going to be ready for next year,” said Baylor commit and junior guard Robert Wrigh III, who finished with a game-high 27 points. “Because we took two tough losses in championships. We’re going to be ready to come back.”

After Roman Catholic banked in a three-pointer and sealed the game at the foul line in the PCL championship, Lincoln Park’s game-winning runner and subsequent free throws induced deja vu on the Neumann-Goretti bench.

“We had a tough time recovering after blowing our league championship the way we did,” Neumann-Goretti head coach Carl Arrigale said. “We tried to act like we were okay. We didn’t practice well, we didn’t shoot well all tournament but we got through. We played some good games defensively. We played some teams that just weren’t as good as this.

“I tried to tell them that you got to push through. You gotta just always understand winning’s not a privilege.”

The Saints had two good looks in the paint that rimmed out on their final possession and Pitt commit Brandin Cummings hit two free throws with 0.5 seconds remaining as the Leopards held on for a riveting 62-58 victory in the PIAA Class 4A championship Thursday night at Hershey’s Giant Center.

Cummings scored a team-high 25 points and Thomas had 22 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals to lead the Leopards.

The loss was the first in a PIAA championship for the Saints and Arrigale, who had a 9-0 record in state finals, all coming since 2010.

Meleek Thomas (5) hit the game-winner for Lincoln Park. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

It’s the first state championship for Lincoln Park since 2019 and third overall; the Leopards lost to Neumann-Goretti in the 2017 final.

Neither team had a lead larger than seven Friday, but missed free throws down the stretch and a surprising rebounding advantage for the Leopards (30-1), whose tallest player was generously listed at 6-5, did the Saints (26-4) in.

Lincoln Park outrebounded Neumann-Goretti 32-26, 10 of which came on the offensive glass. Senior guard DeAndre Moye, who is listed at 6-foot, had 10 rebounds.

The score was tied 28-28 at halftime with Khaafiq Myers (nine points), Wright (six), and Sultan Adewale (six) leading the way for the Saints.

Thomas had 12 points and Cummings nine to pace the Leopards in the first half.

Wright hit two 3’s to begin the third quarter and push Neumann-Goretti’s lead to six. That’s the largest lead the Saints would have in the second half.

Cummings answered with two 3’s of his own to tie it and the Leopards went on a 16-7 run to take a 44-41 lead into the fourth quarter.

Neumann-Goretti got 27 points from Robert Wright III (with ball), but his last-second floater and a follow-up didn't go down. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

The fourth quarter saw six lead changes, the first coming on Bruce Smith’s fastbreak layup to reclaim the lead at 48-46 for Neumann-Goretti with 5:48 left.

Thomas’ steal and assist to Cummings for a breakaway dunk put the Leopards up 52-50 with 4:33 to go.

Wright’s floater tied it at 52, but Myers missed the front end of a one-and-one with 3:56 left. Thomas scored a bucket after a loose-ball scramble to make it 54-52 with 3:19 on the clock.

Wright then made one of two foul shots with 2:19 left before getting a steal and scooping in a layup at 1:52 to give the Saints a 55-54 lead.

Thomas’ bucket at 1:39 gave the advantage back to Lincoln Park before two free throws by Wright swung it back to N-G nine seconds later.

Cummings hit two free throws to give the Leopards a 58-57 lead with 1:05 remaining.

Wright drew a blocking foul with 48.7 seconds left and made one of two free throws to tie it.

Lincoln Park called a timeout with 20.4 seconds left before Thomas’ floater gave the Leopards the lead for good.

Arrigale said senior Bruce Smith is headed to NAIA Peru State (Neb.) and Adewale has a visit with Montana State coming up. For juniors Wright, Myers, and the rest of the returning players, the thoughts of the championship shortcomings will fuel a fire all offseason.

“Believe me, I like winning as much as anybody,” Arrigale said. “But, you know, I got into this thing like 30 years ago trying to help kids understand some things about life. There’s going to be ups and downs. If these are the worst things these guys encounter in their lives, I think they will be okay.”

By Quarter
Neumann-Goretti: 15  |  13  |  13  |  17  ||  58
Lincoln Park: 14  |   14   |   16   |  18  ||  62

Neumann-Goretti: 23-50 FG (5-17 3PT), 7-12 FT
Lincoln Park: 22-52 FG (6-22 3PT), 12-15 FT

Neumann-Goretti: Wright 27, Adewale 10, Myers 9, Smith 7, Williams 3, Ashley-2.

Lincoln Park: Cummings 25, Thomas 22, Moye 7, McGhee 6, Green 2.

Neumann-Goretti: Adewale 11, Myers 5, Wright 4, Williams 4, Smith 1, Ashley-Wright 1. Total: 26.
Lincoln Park: Moye 10, Thomas 8, McGhee 7, Cummings 4, Green 3. Total: 32. 

Neumann-Goretti: Myers 4, Wright 2. Total: 6.
Lincoln Park: Thomas 5, Moye 3, Cummings 1, McGhee 1. Total: 10.

Neumann-Goretti 12.
Lincoln Park 19.

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