Brandin Cummings and Meleek Thomas Lead Lincoln Park To Class-4A WPIAL Title
PITTSBURGH — Brandin Cummings and Meleek Thomas put on a show as they carried the top-seeded Leopards to the Class-4A WPIAL title with a victory against North Catholic 78-68. The Trojans kept the game tight through the first three quarters but a late surge by Meleek Thomas sealed the title-clinching victory for Lincoln Park.
“I felt like we all had to (step it up) because they were getting too close and we don’t like when teams get that close so we had to break the gap,” said Thomas about the second half.
Cummings started the night hot as he scored 16 of his 22 points in the first half. Thomas picked it up in the second half as he finished with a team-high 25 points, including 13 fourth-quarter points.
“They play off of each other, that’s what is great about those two. They pick each other up [and] they play off of each other,” said Lincoln Park’s head coach Mike Bariski. “Those guys (Lincoln Park players) understand who the two big dogs are.”
Meleek Thomas is one of the most highly-touted sophomores in the nation with offers from Pittsburgh, Villanova, Indiana, and others.
The junior Cummings is already committed to playing his college basketball at the University of Pittsburgh.
“We’re talking about the two best players in the area. I believe that Cummings is in a position to get significant minutes for the University of Pittsburgh, in the ACC as a freshman,” said North Catholic’s head coach Jim Rocco. “Meleek is a top ten player in the country.”
Midway through the first, the Trojans tied the game at 15 but within seconds, DeAndre Moye and Vinnie DePaula hit shots that gave the Leopards a 5-point lead.
At the end of the opening quarter, Cummings flashed his Division 1 talent as he recorded a steal and then finished on the other end with an impressive euro-step.
Lincoln Park ended the first quarter with a 10-point lead due to a slow start by every Trojan player not named Andrew Maddalon. Maddalon scored 13 of North Catholic’s 17 first-quarter points and finished with a game-high 32 points.
“Andrew had a great game, his footwork was excellent tonight. Very difficult to guard going to the rim,” said Rocco postgame. “He’s moved into that category, we want to talk about all of these other guys, but the way Andrew played under the lights tonight, he’s been doing it all season.”
“What he does, which is unusual, gets in the lane [then] pivots, pivot, pivot again [then] shoots a lay-up. It’s very tough to watch a guy like that,” added Lincoln Park’s Bariski.
Cummings started the second quarter with the same energy that he ended the first as he hit an NBA-ranged 3-pointer to extend the Leopards’ lead to 11.
The Trojans used a 10-0 run to tie the game again at 33 but just like in the first quarter, the Leopards answered with two quick buckets that gave Lincoln Park a 39-33 lead heading into the halftime intermission.
Later in the third quarter, the Trojans retook the lead for the first time since the opening quarter on a pair of Maddalon free throws. The Leopards snagged the lead back before the third-quarter buzzer and nursed a 55-54 lead heading into the final frame.
“I thought we did a great job of fighting for the first three quarters and then credit to them, their length and athleticism sometimes got to us. It kinda rushed our decision-making a little bit,” said Maddalon.
14 of the Leopards’ 23 fourth-quarter points came from Thomas including a dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy. North Catholic was outscored 23-14 in the fourth quarter which ultimately put the game out of reach for the Trojans.
“That happens to us a lot. There have been some close games [and] in the fourth quarter we pull away,” said Bariski. “Last time we played [North Catholic,] at their place, the third quarter was all theirs and in the fourth quarter, we pulled away. At our place, it was the same thing.”
Besides Maddalon’s game-high 32 points, Max Hurray finished with 19 points for the Trojans.
Aside from being section foes, these two teams have met each other in the championship four times over the past five seasons. Lincoln Park now owns a 3-1 championship record during that period with North Catholic’s only victory coming in 2020. This is the sixth WPIAL title for the Leopards since 2012.
Lincoln Park now enters the PIAA state playoffs with an even greater sense of confidence.
“I feel like we can compete with anybody, especially with me and Brandin and the level we play at. The standard that we set for ourselves is like ‘We can’t be [beaten] and we will go against anybody in the WPIAL, the state, and the country,'” said Thomas.
Brandin Cummings, the future Pitt Panther
Brandin Cummings – younger brother of current Panther, Nelly Cummings – is a junior at Lincoln Park but is committed to playing his college ball for Jeff Capel at the University of Pittsburgh.
Jeff Capel may have not been in attendance for the championship due to his team’s regular-season finale against Miami but Cummings still wanted to put on a show because he knew that his brother, future coach, and Pitt fans were watching his performance.
Cummings added even more excitement for the fans as he rocked a Pitt shirt during warm-ups instead of the usual Lincoln Park gear.
“I knew a lot of people were going to come out and see me play. Everybody knows that I am a Pitt commit and I really just wanted to put on a show for my fans and my family in my future home,” Cummings said after the game.
According to Rivals.com, Cummings is a three-star rated prospect in the Class of 2024.
Pitt fans may have to wait another year for Cummings to dawn the royal and gold but he should make an instant impact on the team in 2025.
Hopefully Brandin and Meleek can put that theory to the test that no one in the country can beat them at Pitt!