Lincoln’s run a product of hard work, teamwork and talent

The Abraham Lincoln High School boys basketball team just wrapped up a season that will go down in the record books.

Roman Catholic’s Seth Lundy (23) guards Lincoln’s point guard Khalif Meares (2) as he looks for an open teammate Wednesday in the PIAA District I 6A state basketball championship at the Giant Center in Hershey. RICK KINTZEL / FOR THE TIMES

At times, it almost looked too easy, but it was anything but.

The Abraham Lincoln High School boys basketball team just wrapped up a season that will go down in the record books as the Railsplitters advanced to the state 6A championship, and along the way, they won close games, blowouts and did it in defensive struggles and games where they had to run-and-gun to outlast their opponents.

The victories started piling up in December, but the hard work was long before that.

“The season was because we worked so hard in the summer,” said Lincoln senior guard Sanhei Day. “During the summer, we were working out every day. Not everybody came every day, but for the most part we were all there because we wanted to be good this year. I think we all knew we could be good, but we played better than everyone thought we would.”

Much better.

Lincoln finished the season with 25 victories. It won a city championship in the big school classification (6A), and went all the way to the state championship.

There, Lincoln fell to Roman Catholic 92–80 in a rematch of the city championship. Sure, the ultimate goal was to leave Hershey with a banner, and that didn’t happen. But that did little to take the shine off the season.

It wasn’t what they were hoping for, but in reality they got more than they ever dreamed they could do.

And forget about the Philadelphia Eagles being everyone’s favorite underdog, that moniker now belongs to the Railsplitters.

“The best part of the year was when people who never came to our games to watch would come out and tell us they’re watching, telling us they’re fans,” said Shakeir Morrison, who scored 14 points in the state final. “People would always come up to us and tell us how they love watching us play. Before, nobody ever came, but this year people would say they like watching Lincoln boys basketball. That felt really good.”

Another reason this historic run felt so good was because Lincoln wasn’t a one-man show. The Railsplitters also weren’t a two-man game, a big three or even one great starting lineup. About 10 player saw key minutes for the Railsplitters and when coach Al Brown would shuffle players in and out of the lineup, the players were almost interchangeable.

Everybody knew their role and ran it to perfection.

“We had so many guys who could do everything, and that made us so much harder to stop,” said the Public League B Division MVP Khalif Meares, who scored 28 points against Roman. “And we all loved playing defense. That was how we won games. We wouldn’t beat people with offense, we would beat people because we would score because of our defense. That was what got us to win.”

That point was driven home by every Railsplitter, and that’s because it’s the way Brown and the coaching staff wanted to play.

It’s also the first thing the team worked on every day in practice, and that was evident. It also didn’t hurt that because of depth, Lincoln players could go all out on the defensive end because if they got tired, there was another great player ready to check in.

“We were so hard to stop because we could all do everything,” said guard Emeuel Charleston, who also scored 14 points in the final game. “We all had confidence in each other and we all liked playing together. When you have a team like that, and a team that likes to play defense, it makes it easier on everyone.

“And our coaches are a big reason. They always pushed us, always helped us and always had our backs. They made it happen.”

The Railsplitters are even prouder of this year’s run because of how last year ended.

Lincoln made the 6A state playoffs a year ago, and won the opener, but then fell in the second round. That game was particularly disappointing because there were chances to win, but mistakes, both physical and mental, kept the Railsplitters from advancing.

This year, Lincoln lost to a great Roman Catholic team. The Cahillites’ only postseason loss was to the Railsplitters in the city championship game. Roman not only walked off with the state championship, but also the Catholic League crown, so losing to the Cahillites wasn’t anything to be embarrassed about. And it’s even a better achievement considering Lincoln was neck and neck with Roman until the final minute of the game.

This was a three-point game for the bulk of the fourth quarter, and Lincoln even cut the lead to two points with under two minutes to go.

In the end, the Cahillites just had the better night.

“Everybody knows how good Roman is, so while I wanted to win, I’m too busy being proud of everyone to be mad,” said Day, who missed most of last year with a broken ankle. “I expected us to be this good, I expected us to be one of the best teams in the area, but now that we did it, looking back, it’s great. We made history.”

That was the overall vibe from the entire team.

“It’s really a great feeling to make it to the state championship and play in Hershey and play on TV,” Morrison said. “We accomplished what nobody except the guys on this team thought we would. People doubted us all the time. I don’t think anyone thought we could beat Roman, and when we did in the city championship, people started to believe. But we believed the whole time.”

“We’re not Stinkin’ Lincoln anymore, that’s great that we showed everyone that we can be winners,” Charleston said. “I think when we won our (state semifinal), that was the best game of the season because then we knew we were going to Hershey, going to the ‘chip. Just going there was great. Winning would have been better, but I can’t be mad. It was too great of a year.”

Now the true test will be seeing if they can continue the tradition of excellence this senior class started.

The pieces are there, but the work ethic must be there as well.

“I think we showed everyone what hard work can do,” Meares said. “There are young guys on this team. There were a lot of seniors, but the young guys now know what it takes. I think they’ll do the same thing. I hope they go further. I hope they win the state championship. They can do what we did, but only do it better.”

Even if they do, it’s likely no team will replicate what this team did.

This was the first Lincoln team to make it to a state championship.

And what makes it even better is this team was better because it played as a unit. And the players did that because they enjoyed being around each other and they enjoyed watching each other succeed.

“I think we all played together so well because we were having fun,” Charleston said. “We came up short, but other than that, this is a season we’ll all talk about for the rest of our lives.”

And because of that, they’ll likely always be friends.

All season, the Railsplitters kept in constant contact via group text. That helped them form a bond that got stronger every time they took the court.

Winning has a funny way of bringing everyone together.

“We would talk about all different things,” Day said. “Mostly basketball, we would always talk basketball, but we’d talk about girls and other stuff. We just liked talking to each other. We were brothers. We still are brothers. We’ll always be.”

And they’ll always be Railsplitters.

“I’m so proud about what we did,” Meares said. “We did what nobody thought we could do. We all helped each other and we all won together. This was a great year. The only thing that we didn’t do was win the last game. Other than that, it was perfect.”