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The HIckory Hornets magical run has one final stop, and that’s Thursday night (7:30 p.m.) against District 11 champion Allentown Central Catholic in the PIAA Class 4A title game at the Giant Center.
It’s a destination they hoped to get to last season before the COVID-19 shutdown hit, but a year later, they are exactly where they want to be.
They’ve gotten to this point by going 23-3, winning the ultra-competitive Region 4 before getting defensive en route to the District 10 title.
They allowed just 33, 34 and 34 points in D-10 playoff wins over Fort LeBoeuf, Warren and Harbor Creek, rallying past the Huskies in the district championship game.
In the state playoffs, 1,500-point scorer Peyton Mele has taken on the role of hero. His 3-pointer at the buzzer sent the Hornets past Johnstown and into the PIAA semifinals.
All they did in the semifinal game was take down WPIAL champion Lincoln Park, 68-61, thanks in large part to Mele’s career-high 38 points.
Connor Evans has given the Hornets a potent 1-2 scoring punch this season. While Mele checks in at 18.3 ppg., Evans averages 15.0 ppg., and reached that number in the win over Lincoln Park.
Jackson Pryts (8.6 ppg.), Matt Cannone (6.8 ppg.) and Joe Fazzone (4.8 ppg.) have all stepped up their games in the postseason as well to help the Hornets get to the verge of a state championship.
Like the Hornets, Central Catholic has also played a number of close games to reach Hershey.
The District 11 champions, who come in with a record of 19-4, started their state playoff run with a 43-40 victory over D-1 champ Pope John Paul II, 43-40. They followed that up with wins over Archbishop Carroll (55-51) and Middletown (46-43).
The Vikings are led by the inside-out combination of junior guard Tyson Thomas and junior forward Liam Joyce.
The 6-5 Joyce checks in at 16.2 ppg, while Thomas, a 6-1 guard, averages 16.0 ppg.
Also look for the likes of Andrew Csensits (4.9 ppg.), Aidan Burmeister (5.7 ppg.) and Christian Spugnardi (5.8 ppg.) for Central Catholic.
This will be Hickory’s first state championship appearance in 60 years (1961). The Hornets, who have won three straight District 10 titles, and most recently made the PIAA semifinals in 2019 when they lost to Imhotep Charter.
The Vikings have won a pair of state championships in their history, with the most recent coming against Aliquippa in 1986.
In their most recent appearance, they were bested by District 10’s Franklin in 2011.