Avonworth sheds underdog label with section-shaking win over No. 3 Montour

Saturday, January 13, 2024 | 12:13 AM

In a pregame talk with his players, Avonworth basketball coach Mike Mancuso embraced the idea that the WPIAL saw them as underdogs in their own section.

But nobody can say that anymore, thanks in part to a senior with his own underdog story. Anthony Arlia scored a career-high 20 points as Avonworth ran away with a 64-48 win over Montour, the team ranked third in the WPIAL and considered the section favorite before Friday night.

The unranked Antelopes never trailed in this one. In fact, they had the large home crowd buzzing when their lead reached 24 points soon after halftime.

“This lets us know we can beat anybody,” Arlia said. “I think they’re the second- or third-ranked team in 4A and we weren’t on anybody’s radar. Beating them gives us a lot of confidence that we can hang with anybody.”

It’s fitting that the big night belonged to Arlia, who made four 3-pointers. He hit two 3s in the first quarter alone, shots that helped Avonworth take early leads of 10-2 and 15-4.

The 6-foot-1 guard was largely a junior varsity player a year ago, but like his team, he shouldn’t be overlooked any longer.

“He’s so special to me because he’s a program kid,” Mancuso said. “He got cut as a seventh grader. We talked to him about continuing to develop and get better — and he did.

“He was here at 6:15 in the morning. He’s getting shots up. He’s in his driveway. He’s the type of kid that high school basketball is all about. And then to perform on a night like this, in front of his peers and in front of his community, is so fun for me to watch.”

Arlia was one of three scorers in double figures for Avonworth (9-3, 4-0). Junior guard Rowan Carmichael, who drew extra attention from Montour’s defense, scored 16 points. Junior Noah Goetz had 10.

Jake Wolfe scored a team-high 20 points for Montour (9-2, 3-1), but the Spartans struggled offensively for much of the night. Colton Straight added 14 points, all in the second half. The Spartans shot 39% from the field and made only 4 of 15 attempts from 3-point range.

Montour trailed 15-7 after one quarter, 33-21 at half and 50-31 after three.

“I think we needed a wake-up call,” Montour coach Bill Minear said. “Avonworth tonight did every little thing you could do to win. Every loose ball, if there were 50, they got 48. If there was a tipped rebound, they came up with it. That led to easy baskets.”

Avonworth’s lead was down to two points midway into the second quarter before the Antelopes got some distance with a quick 9-0 run. Noah Quinn scored seven straight points with two layups and a 3-pointer to lead 29-18.

Avonworth was ahead by 12 at half.

In the third, Montour went scoreless for more than four minutes to start the quarter. Avonworth’s lead peaked at 45-21 after Arlia banked in a runner and followed with a 3-pointer.

The Antelopes shot 48% from the field and made 9 of 17 attempts from beyond the arc. Montour’s 6-foot-9 center Ama Sow caused them trouble around the rim and blocked eight shots, but they adjusted and tried to find looks away from the paint.

“We were super unselfish,” Arlia said. “We knew going to the hoop and shooting layups wasn’t going to work, so there was a lot of driving to the paint and kicking out for 3s. We moved the ball really well and got a lot of good shots.”

The teams rematch Feb. 6 at Montour.

Avonworth is coming off a 9-14 record a year ago. The Antelopes tied for fourth in their section and slipped into the playoffs as a No. 14 seed, so there wasn’t too much talk about them coming into this winter.

They‘d lost twice to Montour last season.

“We talked before the game about being an underdog and what that means,” Mancuso said. “Nobody picked us. … We talked about how you can take that and use it as motivation. And then when you get a crowd like this and you spin all of that together, you get the perfect storm.”

But Mancuso will need a new motivational message moving forward since nobody will believe the Antelopes are underdogs now.

“Not anymore,” Arlia said. “Not after this game.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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