Montour, Lincoln Park trying to reach 3rd straight PIAA title game
Call his players overachievers, and Montour coach Adam Kaufman wouldn't disagree much.
How could he?
“Our guys have given us everything they have,” said Kaufman, whose Spartans can reach the state championship game for a third consecutive season with a victory Tuesday night over Archbishop Carroll, a talent-rich opponent from Philadelphia's Catholic League.
Only 14 boys basketball teams have reached three straight PIAA title games, an exclusive group Lincoln Park also could join with a semifinal victory over Johnsonburg. But while Lincoln Park was expecting another long postseason run, Montour's wasn't guaranteed.
Montour, which relies on a 6-foot-1 post player, lacks the size of recent Spartan squads. Yet this roster won the program its second WPIAL title in three seasons.
“If you'd asked me at the beginning of the year if we were going to win a championship and get to the state semis, I would have had a hard time saying yes,” Kaufman said.
But here they are, wanting more.
To reach Hershey, Montour must overachieve once again, this time against an Archbishop Carroll (22-6) lineup that features a senior point guard headed to Binghamton, a 6-foot-10 center from Ghana and a 6-5 sophomore already drawing Division I offers.
Montour has talented point guard Devin Wilson, a Division I recruit, and a roster of hard workers who repeatedly have stretched their season and their talent as far as possible.
“With this group, I don't think a lot of people expected us to win a (WPIAL) championship and get as far as we did in the states so far,” Kaufman said. “It's really been rewarding. We weren't expected to win a lot of these games, but because of the types of guys we have, they just keep finding ways to win. It's been a lot of fun.”
That dark horse status has made this postseason run enjoyable, maybe more so than even the past two, he said. A season ago, “the expectation was, if you don't win a championship, it's a failure. That's really hard to handle. There's so much added pressure.”
This time, there's little pressure.
“Are we good enough to win? Yes,” Kaufman said, “but the pressure's not on us. If you look at our roster compared to Archbishop Carroll's, anybody in the gym is going to pick one team to win, and it's not going to be the guys in (Montour's) black and gold.”
A win Tuesday over District 9 champion Johnsonburg would allow Lincoln Park its third straight shot.
“Believe me, that prize for winning a state championship and being the best team in the state is a pretty good feeling if you can get it done,” Lincoln Park coach Mark Javens said. “There's no doubt about it.”
Unlike years past, boys and girls semifinals for all four classifications have been scheduled for the same night. The WPIAL has at least one representative in all eight brackets. The championships are Friday and Saturday at Hershey's Giant Center.
Seton-La Salle, a 2012 champion, and Beaver Falls, last year's runner-up, could make their second straight championship. Yet, potential third straight trips by Montour or Lincoln Park would be remarkable, and would give both programs another chance to win the title that eluded them the past two tries.
Only three WPIAL boys programs have reached the state championship in three consecutive seasons: Duquesne (1992-94), Sto-Rox (2002-04) and Midland (1973-76), which went four consecutive seasons. Mt. Lebanon's girls advanced four times (2008-11).
“I keep talking to them every day about enjoying this,” Kaufman said. “Value the opportunity you have, value the process.”