Leopard celebration in Hershey! Photo: courtesy Michael Longo for The Beaver County Times (Michael Longo)
Leopard celebration in Hershey! Photo: courtesy Michael Longo for The Beaver County Times

Michael Longo

Victory Comes in Threes for LP


March 24, 2023

HERSHEY, PA–Good things, as they sometimes say, come in threes.


But after leading Lincoln Park to its third state championship, head coach and athletic director Mike Bariski admitted, “The last one’s always the best one.”

The Lincoln Park Leopards celebrate the school’s third state championship. Photo: courtesy Michael Longo for The Beaver County Times

After Lincoln Park’s third state championship win Thursday–a nail-biting 62-58 victory over Philadelphia’s Neumann-Goretti at Hershey’s Giant Center in the PIAA 4A finals–Mr. Bariski had time to reflect on how this win stacks up to the rest.


The Leopards were the first team to defeat Neumann-Goretti in a state championship game. The Saints were undefeated in nine previous trips to this final matchup. They were ranked 20th in the nation by MaxPreps.


In the Leopards’ first championship season of 2014, “we were loaded up, so that was special,” Mr. Bariski said this morning, via phone from Hershey. The second championship, in 2019, was different, he added: it was “a great group of guys,” but there were no future Division I players on the team.


“But this one was against a Philadelphia powerhouse that has won nine of these in a row. And last year, with that same group of guys, they won a state championship by over 30 points,” Mr. Bariski said. “So it just showed the kind of fortitude we had as a team. I’m proud of those guys.


“And I’m proud of the school,” he added. “You know, the school gives us a lot of exposure. So I appreciate that.”

Head coach Mike Bariski gets a victory bath after the Leopards triumph. Photo: courtesy Michael Longo for The Beaver County Times

The Leopards got their 30th win, as well as their third state championship, in the final seconds Thursday. Mr. Bariski drew up a play for sophomore guard Meleek Thomas, whose floater broke a 58-58 tie and gave the Leopards a lead they would never relinquish.


Junior Beebah Cummings told The SIREN, “When the score was tied and we had the ball, I knew we were going to score. I just knew when they got the ball back, we would have to stop them from scoring, and we’d be state champions.” 


“Once we scored, on the biggest defensive possession of the season, we made history,” Cummings said.

Sophomore Meleek Thomas attempts a layup during Thursday night’s PIAA 4A championship game. Photo: courtesy Michael Longo for The Beaver County Times

Senior DeAndre Moye, an Aliquippa native, added, “When the score was tied, I knew we was gonna win. We wanted it more. I told them; [to] keep [up the] fight.” 


Growing up with knowledge of Midland’s long, proud athletic tradition, Cummings said, “Being a part of a state championship team means so much to me. I remember being a kid and watching my brother (Nelly Cummings) do this. 


“I made a promise to the small town of Midland that I’d bring another championship back home. I’m so proud of my teammates for helping me achieve this. I couldn’t be more grateful.”


Senior Mason Milkovich, who is, like Cummings, a Midland native, said, “It’s a great feeling. I remember as a little kid watching LP games, and them going to our school before going off to Hershey.”


“It was cool to be a part of one of those teams,” Milkovich said, “and have the whole community behind you.”


Varsity cheerleader Veronica Van Dam, who is from Enon Valley, admitted she was nervous before the game–even though she believed the Leopards had worked hard all season and deserved to win.


However, Van Dam added, “I had never seen this team play, and it was States, so the game was going to be huge with lots of talent.”


CEO P.K. Poling, who attended the game at the Giant Center, and then returned home in the wee hours of the morning, said he was “extremely proud” of the team “for this magnificent accomplishment.”


“It was a Terrific Thursday for Lincoln Park,” Mr. Poling added with a smile.


After the game, Cummings admitted, “honestly we partied. We probably had the most fun we’ve had all year, and rightfully so. I’m so happy a lot of our supporters came to our hotel and spent time with us. It means a lot to everybody.” 


Added Moye, “It feels great! We worked for this all year through the ups and downs.” Afterward, he said, “We danced and took pics.” 


For seniors like Moye, this state title is a storybook ending. But for younger Leopards, like freshman Josh Pratt, it’s only a reminder of what might be still to come.


“I really look forward to being the next man up, as young as I am,” said Pratt, who is the younger brother of former Leopards player L.A. Pratt. “I don’t think there will be a lot of pressure, because I know I will be ready for it when that time comes.


“So until the time comes,” Pratt added, “I have to keep working and keep getting better to be ready to be the future of this team.”


SIREN reporters Jade Davis, Emma Giammanco, Ollie Warren, Grace Anderson, Ava Lockette, and Gabriella Salvucci also contributed to this story


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About the Contributor
Tyson Florence is the writer for both Sports with Florence and Take Note columns here on The SIREN. He is a senior from New Brighton, a football player, and has been attending Lincoln Park since seventh grade.

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