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UNDEFEATED LASALLE UNDAUNTED BY ITS TALL TASK AGAINST LINCOLN

LaSalle proved speed could overcome a lack of size by winning the Class A championship in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Tournament last weekend.

But will that be enough against the nation's top player and one of the best teams in the country?

Consensus All-American Stephon Marbury and Abraham Lincoln of the Bronx are next for the unbeaten Explorers (26-0) in the semifinal of the state Federation tournament Friday in the Glens Falls Civic Center at 4 p.m.

Catholic schools champion Christ The King (23-3) takes on Long Island Lutheran (19-5), champion of the Alliance of Independent Schools, in the other semifinal at 2.

The final is Saturday night at 9.

Marbury, a lightning-quick 6-foot-2 point guard, was named Gatorade Circle of Champions national player of the year on Wednesday. He spurned more than 200 major college offers to sign with Georgia Tech, where he is expected to follow in the footsteps of former Tech greats Kenny Anderson and Mark Price.

Described as "Anderson with a jump shot" by basketball observers in the City, Marbury averaged 28 points and eight assists per game to lead Lincoln (24-3) to the New York City Public School Athletic League championship.

The Railsplitters are ranked No. 1 in the state and 13th nationally in the USA Today poll.

"I have accomplished everything at this level, except the PSAL championship," Marbury said by phone Wednesday. "This was the big one, but now I have a chance add to that by winning a state championship."

LaSalle coach Pat Monti watched Lincoln in Sunday's televised PSAL final and concedes that the Railsplitters are a great team. But he is not counting his players out.

"I always felt that to win at this level you had to have a dominant big man," Monti said. "But they have proven me wrong so far.

"Realistically, I know we are prohibitive underdogs. But I don't see us getting blown out and I don't think the kids believe that either."

Unfortunately, second-ranked LaSalle will be a little shorthanded this weekend. Starting guard and second-leading scorer Terry Rich will not make the trip because of tonsillitis and strep throat.

"It's tough when you take 16 points out the lineup," Monti said. "Everyone else will have to step it up."

Tim Winn and Jody Crymes have shown they can shoulder the extra load. The backcourt duo has given teams fits all season at both ends of the floor. Monti hopes to get another strong game from 6-2 sophomore center Carlos Davis, an all-tournament selection last weekend. Swingman Eric McCracken and forwards Pat and Rod Gayle will also see quality minutes.

Like LaSalle, Lincoln overcame limited size up front to win the PSAL title for the first time during the Marbury era.

The biggest player is 6-6 Jamel Thomas (Marbury's cousin), who averages about 17 points and 12 rebounds per game.

The Providence-bound forward grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds in the title game against Paul Robeson, which was 6-10, 6-8, 6-7 across the front line.

Other key players include 5-9 shooting guard Gerard Hawkins (15 points per game) and 6-2 left-hander Corey Valentine, who has signed a football scholarship with Rutgers.

Given how much LaSalle has already overcome this year, the Explorers will be loose going into Friday's game.

"We're going in as the undefeated public school state champions," Monti said. "That was our big goal, so everything else is gravy. Whatever happens this weekend, no one can take that away from these little guys."

Meanwhile, AIS champion Nichols (20-4) goes for its fourth Federation title against public school champ Peekskill (23-3) in the Class C semifinal Saturday at 5 p.m. The winner plays Catholic champ Sacred Heart (12-10) Sunday at 1 in the final.

Pine Valley and Mount Mercy both play in the girls Federation tournament, which makes its first appearance at the Civic Center.

Pine Valley (25-1), the public school champion, meets the Academy of Mount St. Ursula (25-4) Friday at 7:30 p.m. The winner plays in the final against AIS representative Long Island Lutheran (23-4) Saturday at 2.

Catholic champ Mount Mercy (22-4) takes on defending champion Our Lady of Lourdes from Poughkeepsie (25-2) in the Class C final Saturday at noon.

Here's a look at the matchups:

Class C Boys

Nichols hasn't played since winning the AIS title two weeks ago. Is that a concern?

"Sometimes it helps and sometimes it hurts," said coach Jim Kramer, whose team won Federation titles in 1985, 1986 and 1990. "The key is how you compete in practice and we have tried to do that."

The Vikings can't afford to be rusty against Peekskill, which won the public school title with alum Gov. Pataki in the stands.

Nichols' 6-8 center Bill Ewing (17 points, 12 rebounds per game) must come up big against 6-7 sophomore Elton Brand (20 points, 15 rebounds per game) and physical 6-6 forward Laron Bailey (14 points, 11 rebounds per game). Brand was named MVP after a 31-point, 15-rebound performance in the public school final.

Senior guard Jim Pieri (28 points per game) will match up with Derrick Robillard (31 points vs. Traditional).

"They are like Traditional, but a little better up front," said Kramer, who lost to Traditional earlier this season. "We have to rebound the ball because of the way they attack the glass. We're happy to be here, but that is not enough. We are going with the idea that we can win."

Class C Girls

Mount Mercy will find familiar faces in the final. Our Lady of Lourdes has won four straight state public school titles and beat the Magic in the Federation last year.

Lourdes is smaller than last year, but has plenty of experience. Seniors Kim Dennin and Siena-bound 5-9 forward Sinead McLoughlin (13.1 points per game) are both four-year players, while 6-1 center Christina Henry (14.7) is in her third year.

Mount Mercy is back despite losing five seniors (four starters) because of guard Beth Grys, who scored 31 points in two games to lead the Magic to its second straight Catholic state crown.

Forward Renee Witt (13 points, 12 rebounds in Catholic semifinal) has been consistent inside and 5-11 center Maggie Canavan has been an important addition since recovering from an early-season knee injury.

"The girls worked so hard to get here," said first-year coach Anne Marie Granville. "After losing all those seniors and hearing people say they couldn't come back, I think they took it as a challenge to prove people wrong."

Class D Girls

Pine Valley has great balance. Two starters -- senior Tara Ruckh and 6-foot freshman center Nikki Smith -- average 13 points and the other starters average at least eight per game. Ruckh was MVP in the public school final.

"Pine Valley is very competitive and plays well together," said Mount St. Ursula coach Barbara D'Angelo, whose team qualified by beating Nardin. "We'll have to be on top of our game."

Mount St. Ursula is led by 6-1 junior Marlo Thomas (20 points per game) and 1,000-point career scorers Jazmine Sanchez (a 5-9 point guard) and Jennifer Cosf (16 points per game).

"It will be a challenge for us, but I think the girls are very confident right now," Pine Valley coach Tim Nobles said. "Our philosophy all year has been to take one tournament at a time."

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