Lancers must settle for second
Lincoln Park (78) Vs. Neshannock (62)
By JOE SAGER
MIDLAND — The Leopards were leaping last night.
That’s because Lincoln Park captured its first-ever outright WPIAL Section 1-A boys championship with a 78-62 win over Neshannock at the Midland Gymnasium.
In the program’s third season of existence, the squad has claimed three straight section titles. However, the Leopards shared the crown with Union and Sewickley Academy in 2008 and split it with the Lancers a year ago.
This season, it’s all theirs. Lincoln Park did it in impression fashion, too, without a loss in the loop (8-0).
“We never even talked about it. That’s tough to do in any section, though,” Lincoln Park coach Mark Javens said. “We always said we wanted to get better for the end of the year. Hopefully, we took another step forward moving into the playoffs, that’s the most-important thing.”
Chaquille Pratt, a 6-foot-3 junior forward, had another strong game for the Leopards (15-6 overall), the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s third-ranked WPIAL Class A outfit. He attacked the nets for a game-high 35 points. He had 29 tallies in Lincoln Park’s 69-64 at Neshannock on Jan. 15.
“Sometimes, he is just a man among boys. Even though they were playing a diamond-and-one on him, we tried to get the ball to him in the post. As long as they weren’t doubling him, we told him just to get to the rim,” Javens said. “He can step out and shoot it, too. If he pulls a lot of guys with him, that leaves other guys open and they have to step up.”
Neshannock (14-6), which finished second in the section at 6-2, made an effort to stop Pratt, but could not devote most of its energy to him because of the Leopards’ deep and talented lineup, which includes 6-9 center Devontae Watson, who finished with 13 points. Sean Shirley added 13 points for the Lincoln Park, while Alex Kross nailed a pair of 3-pointers and wound up with eight points.
“Pratt is such a good player. He is mostly a post player and you think you’d be able to go to a zone, but then they have a 6-9 kid on the opposite block. So, if you focus on Pratt, they have Watson,” Neshannock coach John Corey said.
“Kross is a very good shooter, too. They are just a very tough matchup. There’s a great chance we see them in the second round of the tournament. We want to play them again in the tournament.”
Both teams advance to the WPIAL playoffs, which begin Friday. However, a victory last night would have given the Lancers a share of the section title for the second straight year.
“I think we had a terrific regular season. We played well in the section,” Corey said. “These guys are a handful, so for our only two section losses to come to Lincoln Park, who is probably going to be a No. 3 seed in the tournament, that’s not bad. Other than that, we’ve played well. We just have to take the positives and move on.”
Lincoln Park raced to a 20-12 lead in the first. However, the guests countered that with a 10-0 outburst. Bobby Nittinger cashed in for the second of his game-high six treys as the quarter expired. Brandon Marinelli gave Neshannock a boost when he tallied the next seven straight points to give the Lancers their first lead, 22-20, with 6:34 left in the half.
“Brandon had a nice run there and gave us the spark off the bench that we know he can do for us,” Corey said.
The Leopards regained the lead and settled for a 36-31 halftime advantage.
A 7-0 run lifted the hosts in the third as they built their lead to 51-43 heading into the final stanza.
Neshannock trimmed the deficit to 51-46 on a Marinelli free throw 36 seconds into the frame. Yet, the Lancers could not overcome the deficit. The hosts maintained their advantage by swishing 10 of 14 charity stripe attempts in the final frame.
“We go 4 of 12 from the line and they go 16 of 23. Obviously, that’s very frustrating,” Corey said. “We had our chances. We definitely made a game of it. Down the stretch, we were fouling and they made their free throws, so you have to credit them.”
Nittinger tallied a team-high 31 points for Neshannock.
“Neshannock is a very good team and Nittinger is a super player,” Javens said. “He really can shoot it.”
That effort left the senior forward with an aggregate count of 985 career points.
“Bobby is a great player. He definitely deserves all the attention he has received this year,” Corey said. “Anytime we are in this type of hostile situation, he just loves it. You can see his game elevate even more.”
Marinelli added 12 points for the Lancers, while Joey Fontana had nine and Eric Bruening had eight.