Updated: Feb 14
With only one game left in the regular season, it looks like Lincoln Park’s Brandin Cummings and Meleek Thomas will end up as one of the best WPIAL scoring tandems in more than 40 years.
Lincoln Park finishes the regular season Friday against Blackhawk. Cummings, a junior guard who recently made a verbal commitment to Pitt, takes a 23.1 average into the game. Thomas, a guard who is ranked among the top sophomores in the country by scouting services, also carries a 23.1 average into the contest.
Since the 1979-80 season, only four duos from the same WPIAL team have finished the regular season with both averaging more than 22 points per game. The “Thom-mings” combo could be the fifth.
The other four tandems to average more than 22 per game were: Quaker Valley’s Markus Frank (27.1) and Adou Thiero (25.1) last season; Our Lady of the Sacred Heart’s Jake DiMichele (29.0) and Dante Spadafora (22.8) in 2019-20; Norwin’s Matt Palo (30.1) and Andy Carter (23.0) in 2010-11; and Pine-Richland’s Allan MacQuarrie (23.1) and Mike Decker (22.5) in 1998-99.
WPIAL to use ‘play-backs’
For a few decades, the WPIAL has used a “follow-the-leader” system in the boys and girls basketball playoffs to determine PIAA playoff participants. But the WPIAL is going to a “play-back” system to determine some spots this year.
The follow-the-leader system worked like this: If five teams from a WPIAL classification qualified for the PIAA playoffs, the WPIAL champ would be No. 1 and the runner-up No. 2. The No. 3 team would’ve lost to the WPIAL champ in the semifinals and the No. 4 qualifier would’ve been the team that lost to the WPIAL runner-up in the semifinals. The No. 5 team would be the squad that lost to the WPIAL champ in the quarterfinals.
The league decided to use the play-back system this year but only for PIAA playoff spots five through eight and also in Class 6A boys, which will have three PIAA qualifiers. For example, if a classification takes seven teams to the PIAA playoffs, the four quarterfinal losers would play off to determine spots five, six and seven. The top four spots would continue to be decided by the follow-the-leader system. In Class 6A boys, the two semifinal losers will play for the No. 3 spot.
The WPIAL used the play-back system in the 2015 and 2016 playoffs but then got rid of it.
“We’ll try it this year and see how it works out. There’s not a reason to not try it,” said Vince Sortino, the chief operating officer of the WPIAL who also runs the league’s playoffs. “There was a lot of talk and discussion about it, and we thought it would be something we should revisit.”
There is a good possibility the higher-seeded team in the WPIAL playoffs would be the home team in a play-back game.
“That hasn’t been totally decided yet,” Sortino said. “My own thought process is it would probably be better for us to have them at home sites, as far as attendance goes. But we haven’t decided exactly on that yet.”
Here are the number of PIAA qualifiers for each WPIAL classification:
BOYS: Class 6A (3), 5A (7), 4A (7), 3A (7), 2A (7) and 1A (5).
GIRLS: Class 6A (4), 5A (7), 4A (6), 3A (7), 2A (8) and 1A (5).
Playoff pairings and seedings for the WPIAL playoffs will be announced by the league Monday afternoon.
Fort Cherry blossoms
At Fort Cherry, they are enjoying the greatest basketball times since the early 1960s.
Under coach Eugene Briggs, Fort Cherry has clinched a section title after tying for a section crown a year ago. The last time Fort Cherry won back-to-back section titles was in the early 1960s. The Rangers actually won four in a row from 1960-63. After that, they won only three more until last year, when the Rangers made it to the WPIAL Class 2A title game before losing to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
This year’s team is 19-2 and is led by guard Owen Norman, who is the 10th-leading scorer in the WPIAL at 24.5 points per game.
First to 50
Uniontown’s victory against Elizabeth Forward gave the Raiders at least a tie for a section championship. They also became the first in WPIAL history to win 50 section titles.
But Washington also has a chance to win its 50th section championship, depending on the Little Prexies’ final two games.
Aquinas Academy’s Vinnie Cugini broke the WPIAL scoring record last week and Tuesday night became only the fifth player in Pennsylvania boys history to score 3,000 career points.
But 50 years ago, there was a WPIAL player who scored so many points that he made Sports Illustrated’s “Faces In The Crowd” feature. But this player scored his points in a ninth-grade game.
B.B. Flenory (his real first name was Baron) was a legendary high school player at Valley in the mid-1970s, but he played three years for New Kensington’s junior-high team and scored 81 points in a 124-52 victory against Deer Lakes in a 1973 junior-high game. That got him in Sports Illustrated and SI said Flenory averaged 50.2 points during his three seasons. Back then, many schools did not allow freshman to play on the varsity team.
If Flenory played varsity as a freshman and if they had a 3-point line in high school basketball back then, it’s no telling how many points Flenory might have scored. He had a school-record 52 in one varsity game against Norwin. In three years of varsity basketball at Valley, he scored 1,896 points before going on to play at Duquesne.
“Ninth-graders couldn’t play varsity at our school,” Flenory said earlier this week. “That’s one of several reasons these younger guys got all the records — no 3-point line and couldn’t play varsity four years.”
Another Valley player, Tom Pipkins, set the WPIAL career scoring record from 1989-93 and Cugini broke Pipkins’ record of 2,838 points.
“My dear friend, Tommy Pipkins, has the Valley scoring record, but I have the highest scoring average and top three single-game records,” Flenory said. “I wish we could have played varsity then.”
Mike White: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @mwhiteburgh
First Published February 9, 2023, 3:10am