HERSHEY — By all accounts, the game should’ve been over.
Lincoln Park led Trinity 68-52 with 2:50 to play after Keeno Holmes made a pair of free throws. Shamrocks senior center Kalen Veres had just fouled out. Freshman guard Chance Westry was visibly exhausted.
It looked like the Leopards would just waltz to a PIAA Class 3A championship.
But Trinity nearly turned the Giant Center on its roof.
The Shamrocks embarked on a nearly miraculous comeback attempt, outscoring the Beaver County team by 15 points and turning LP’s victory lap into a scramble to avoid calamity.
The run, however, fell a fingertip short.
With 1.2 seconds to play, Trinity down 73-72, Westry deflected a Leopards inbounds pass for his seventh steal of the night. The only problem — the ball popped up in the air, and by the time he came down with it, Westry didn’t have enough time to turn around and get off a potential game-winning shot.
The Shamrocks (26-4) fell 73-72 to Lincoln Park on Saturday, inches short of the program’s third state title.
“I thought as time stood still when that last play, Chance got his finger on it, and his hand on it — if we had another second, who the heck knows what could’ve happened here,” 35-year veteran head coach Larry Kostelac Jr. said just outside the team’s locker room after the game. “But that would’ve been a heckuva comeback.
“We’re within a hair of winning a state championship.”
It was nothing short of amazing that Westry was even that close to a game-winning steal and shot.
The 6-foot-3 Penn State recruit turned heads with a jaw-dropping 40-point performance, adding nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and seven steals in what was clearly an MVP showing.
HERSHEY — Where the performance ranks among the greatest in PIAA championship history is a d…
He scored 10 points during the 20-5 run, adding a pair of assists and two rebounds.
And it was Patrick Walker’s 3-ball on Westry’s first assist of the stretch that kickstarted the rally.
“Yeah, the coach told us we gotta fight,” Westry said. “In order to win, we gotta fight.”
Walker’s 3 started a 9-0 Shamrocks run, seven points of which Walker was responsible for. Westry then knocked down his own triple and two more freebies to cut it to 70-64 with a minute to go.
After LP’s Isaiah Smith converted a pair at the foul line to push the lead back to six, Westry again went on the offensive, scoring five points on free throws and another big 3 with 32 seconds left to make it 72-69.
Daquon Bradford missed both his shots at the line, but a Westry 3 was off the mark. And after a Trinity foul, Johnnie Bryant made the first of his two free throws, what proved to be the game-winning point.
An Aley Zangari 3 set the final score with three seconds left, and Westry’s last-second steal was not enough.
“We just started feeling like, ‘Well, we can do this,’” said Walker, whose career ends with a 12-point, five-rebound evening. “And then we got there, and we were like, ‘Let’s do this.’”
“They were going to give their best effort, and they were never going to stop,” Kostelac said. “We just ran out of a little bit of time.”
The District 7 champs (27-4) did themselves no favors with costly turnovers and a nerve-racking 5-of-14 performance at the charity stripe, helping Trinity climb back in it. Losing Keeno Holmes (12 points, 4 assists) and Andrew Wilder (11 points, 11 rebounds) also nearly doomed Lincoln Park.
“We weren’t able to, on that high screen and role or anything [with Westry], we weren’t able to jump up on that because the two kids we put in [to replace Wilder and Holmes] were both sophomores,” LP head coach Michael Bariski said. “And they were just deers in the headlight. But you know what, I give them all the credit in the world — they did what they could do.”
The game was tight for almost the entire first half, with Trinity holding its largest lead (4 points) in the second after a Marcus Beckett jumper. Westry scored 10 points in the opening period, and Beckett and Matt Long each swished 3s.
But Lincoln Park closed with a five-point flurry in the final 15 seconds of the half off a Smith 3 and a Bryant steal-and-score to make it 37-30 LP, what would be a pivotal sequence later when the ‘Rocks tried to come back.
Smith finished with 21 points for LP with several big triples. And Casey Oliver came off the bench for 14 big points as well. Bryant finished with 11.
“No, I wasn’t worried,” Smith said. “We got each other’s back, and these are my brothers. I’d do anything for them. They told me to win it for them, and I got them.”
“That’s the performance we get all year from [Bryant and Smith],” Bariski said. “Those guys have made big foul shots all year, along with Casey Oliver. You know, the X-factor for us all year has been Casey Oliver. Comes in off the bench, does some crazy stuff.”
Walker is one of five seniors that sees his career end with a state silver medal. Long (five points), Kalen Veres (zero points, eight rebounds), Ben Gnall (zero points) and Conor Moore (zero points, two rebounds) cap their careers as just the sixth Trinity team to make it to this stage, and one of a handful to win four straight District 3 titles — Trinity has won six straight.
“I knew we were special from the very beginning,” Walker said.
“There are a lot of teams that wish they had this silver medal around their neck,” Kostelac said. “They should be proud, and they can walk out with their heads held high.”