Hampton cools off Avonworth’s red-hot scorer for spot in WPIAL 4A final

Saturday, February 24, 2024 | 11:00 PM

Hampton’s Peter Kramer has faced his share of unorthodox defenses over the years, schemes designed specifically to shut him down as a scorer.

Some work, some don’t.

That makes Kramer the perfect person to critique the efforts of teammate A.J. Prodente, whose job Saturday was to shadow Avonworth scorer Rowan Carmichael wherever he was on the court.

“I’m going to give all props to my point guard,” Kramer said after second-seeded Hampton cooled off the red-hot Carmichael and defeated No. 6 Avonworth, 61-39, in a WPIAL Class 4A semifinal at North Allegheny.

Kramer scored a game-high 25 points for Hampton, which is headed to the WPIAL finals for the first time since 2017.

But all eyes were on Carmichael, a junior who had 32- and 33-point performances in the first two rounds of the playoffs, which made the defensive target on him grow larger. With Prodente denying him the ball, Carmichael was held scoreless in the first half and finished with only six points.

“He guarded Carmichael very well, and that’s not an easy task,” Kramer said. “He was putting up crazy numbers in the first two rounds.”

Hampton (22-3) will face top-seeded Lincoln Park (22-4) in the WPIAL Class 4A final at 9 p.m. Thursday at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The trip to the finals is Hampton’s eighth all-time, following appearances in 2006, ’09 ’10, ’12, ’13, ’14 and ’17. The Talbots won a WPIAL title in 2009.

“It’s a feeling of gratitude. It’s a feeling of excitement. It’s a feeling of joy,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said of returning to the finals. “I’m happy for those kids. Being a coach that has done it for so long and having the success that we did … to get back is hard, it’s really hard.”

Kramer already has experienced winning a WPIAL title once, having won as a sophomore at Shady Side Academy in 2022. PIAA rules forced him to sit out the playoffs last season after transferring home to Hampton, so this is his first real postseason with the Talbots.

“Last year, just sitting on the bench was definitely tough,” Kramer said. “Just knowing what it’s like to play at the Pete, I just want to be back. There’s nothing better than with this team. I’m excited for Thursday.”

Avonworth (17-8) has clinched a spot in the state tournament and will play Uniontown (21-4) in the WPIAL third-place game Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.

“The old saying is that adversity builds character, and we had a lot of it tonight,” said Avonworth coach Mike Mancuso, noting the size disadvantage his team faced every round. “The first round was 6-8, the second at 6-11 and now a 6-9 guy.”

Hampton forward Liam Mignogna, a 6-foot-9 senior, scored 19 points and helped the Talbots out-rebound Avonworth. Mignogna gave the Talbots’ offense a strong inside-outside game in tandem with Kramer, a 6-5 guard headed to Lehigh.

Kramer scored 21 points in the first three quarters and then gave way to Mignogna, who had 11 in the fourth.

Avonworth had no starter taller than 6-1.

“Basketball is a big-person game a lot of times,” Mancuso said. “Their big is a true big. You could see it tonight. He had good position and he could finish at the rim. We knew that was going to be a challenge if he got to his spots, and it’s hard to get a 280-pounder off his spot.”

Hampton led 18-5 after the first quarter, but Avonworth battled back before halftime to narrow the Talbots’ lead to 25-21 at the break.

Avonworth’s Noah Goetz scored 10 of his team-high 17 points in the second quarter, and Anthony Arlia made two 3-pointers in the quarter. Arlia finished with 10 points.

But the Antelopes had trouble getting Carmichael involved. He went 2 for 7 shooting in the second half and added a pair of free throws in the fourth.

“When we self-scout, we always say that if we were playing ourselves, we would throw two guys at Rowan all day and all night,” Mancuso said. “This is the first team that was determined to do that.”

Avonworth needed some shots to fall from others, but the Antelopes went 11 for 40 shooting from the field in the first three quarters. Hampton entered the fourth with a 42-27 lead.

“Our shots weren’t falling,” Mancuso said. “And when your shots aren’t falling, you’re really going to feel that size that they have.”

The defensive attention on Carmichael ratcheted up after his earlier playoffs heroics. Lafko pointed out that Prodente is a 400-meter sprinter for the school’s track team, so he had the endurance to chase after Carmichael all game.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that’s one guy you’ve got to pay attention to,” Lafko said of Carmichael. “We didn’t know if we’d stick to it for the entire game, but we knew we had it as part of our arsenal. It was effective tonight.”

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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