MIDLAND, Pa. – Hickory jumped out to an early lead in its PIAA Class 4A Semifinal at Lincoln Park Monday then held off a late rally as the Hornets topped the Leopards, 68-61, to advance to the state championship game for the first time in 60 years.
Hickory last played for the state title in 1961. The Hornets had made it to the state semifinals four times since then, three straight from 1993-1995 and again in 2019, but lost the semifinal game. They were one win from the state semifinal when the winter championships were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hornets led by 11 as the fourth quarter began, but the Leopards had trimmed the lead to seven, 56-49, with just under four minutes to play. With two minutes to go, the lead was down to four, and with just under a minute left Lincoln Park had cut it to a one-possession game, 62-59.
Hickory’s defense allowed just two more points the rest of the way as the Hornets clinched their spot in the title game. They’ll face Allentown Central Catholic, a 46-43 winner over Middletown in the other semifinal, at the GIANT Center in Hershey Thursday.
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Senior Peyton Mele had a monster game for the Hornets with 38 points, with 18 coming from the free throw line-including a perfect 9-9 in the fourth quarter. Connor Evans had 15 points and Joey Fazzone nine.
Brandin Cummings led the Leopards with 21 points. Elias Bishop had 13 and Ali Brown-Bailey 12.
The Hornets held a 17-8 lead after the first quarter and had Lincoln’s Dakari Bradford (3) and Cummings (2) in foul trouble. They kept the pressure on and took a 29-21 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
The Leopards trimmed the lead to six late in the third quarter, but the Hornets pushed the lead back to double figures, 46-35, heading to the fourth quarter.