Avonworth uses speed on defense, offensive spurts to take down Ligonier Valley

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Monday, February 21, 2022 | 9:42 PM


It took Avonworth a little more than a quarter to hit its stride Monday in its WPIAL Class 3A first-round game, but when it did, Ligonier Valley couldn’t keep up.

That’s because the visiting Rams, other than a four-minute stretch in the third quarter, never found their groove and they can thank Avonworth’s quickness and hounding defense for that.

Freshman Rowan Carmichael scored a game-high 23 points, and Joey Kolenda added 16 to pace Avonworth (16-6) to a 64-36 win. The victory advances the Antelopes to the quarterfinals Thursday at Ellwood City.

Matthew Marinchak, who committed to play at Pitt-Greensburg on Monday, led the Rams (12-11) with 22 points.

“We play hard on defense, and that’s our recipe to win,” Avonworth coach Mike Mancuso said. “We have to play great defense, and we have to hustle. We’re athletic. We’re long, and we can do some things. We just need to understand that’s our mantra.”

Avonworth scored in spurts.

It led 7-0 before Marinchak got Ligonier Valley on the scoreboard more than five minutes into the game. The Lopes led 10-7 after a quarter.

Their defensive pressure forced more than 25 Ligonier Valley turnovers, and they pushed their lead to 31-19 by halftime. Carmichael scored nine points in the second quarter.

“Other than Matthew, we didn’t have anyone step up,” Ligonier Valley coach Tim Gustin said. “We had a lot of turnovers and silly mistakes, and they capitalized on them.”

Avonworth quickly pushed its lead to 41-19 in the third quarter, but behind Marinchak, the Rams out together a 14-0 run to trim the lead to 41-33. Carmichael’s traditional three-point play to end the quarter pushed the lead back to 44-33 heading to the fourth quarter.

That bucket helped Avonworth go on an 18-0 run that finished off the Rams. The lead grew to as much as 64-34 late in the game.

“We made a little run in the second half, but we didn’t have enough artillery down the stretch,” Gustin said. “We lost Jaicob (Hollick) to a knee injury in the first half, and he averaged 14 points per game.

“Avonworth is a good team. No. 2 Carmichael is a shifty little player, and he finds ways to the hoop and finishes strong. Their defense got to us. We couldn’t handle their pressure.”

The victory also was Avonworth’s first home playoff win and it’s first playoff win since 2013.

“The players were excited,” Mancuso said. “We struggled a little early, there was a big crowd. The players were anxious and they wanted to get up early.

“But while we struggled offensively, we did play well defensively and that’s what we have to do.”

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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