No. 4 Avonworth stifles Laurel to claim 7th WPIAL girls basketball championship

Friday, March 3, 2023 | 4:30 PM

Avonworth was one of the WPIAL’s best defensive teams during the regular season.

On Friday afternoon, the Lopes put that lockdown style on display on the biggest stage in Western Pennsylvania and rode it all the way to the program’s seventh WPIAL girls basketball championship with a 48-40 victory over No. 2 Laurel at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

Using a three-quarter court press and an aggressive trapping zone in the half-court, No. 4-seeded Avonworth held Laurel to its lowest output of the season, 13 points below its season average.

“We know if we defend, we always have a chance to win,” Avonworth first-year coach Nick Dizon said. “I thought our girls really accepted the challenge. We knew we were playing a great Laurel team with multiple threats. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and we knew that if we did that side of it, whether we made a 3-pointer or not, we’d have a chance to win.”

The Lopes forced 18 turnovers and held Laurel to 12 of 44 shooting (27.3%) from the field. They also had 10 steals and converted turnovers into 15 points. That allowed Avonworth to lead for 26 minutes, 17 seconds, compared to 2:27 for Laurel.

“They were very aggressive. The matchup zone affected us,” Laurel coach Jim Marcantino said. “We did a good job in spurts moving it, but we had trouble against the matchup zone. And we had trouble rebounding the ball. The second half, we did much better.”

Avonworth allowed just 35.0 points per game this season, relying on team defense and pressuring the ball around the perimeter.

Becca Goetz scored 13 points, and Greta O’Brien added 10, but it was their work at the other end that made the difference as they held Laurel’s leading scorers Johnna Hill and Regan Atkins to 16 and eight points, respectively.

“Coach prepared us really well with our scouting reports and prep in practice,” O’Brien said.

Laurel, which was seeking its first WPIAL championship, trailed 11-7 after the first quarter and 22-15 at halftime. The Spartans, however, rallied in the third quarter behind a 3-pointer from Danielle Pontius and key baskets from Atkins, Hill and Joselynn Fortuna to cut the deficit to 29-28 heading into the final eight minutes.

“We knew they were a third-quarter team. We kind of expected that,” Goetz said. “We’re also a third-quarter team. We get a lot of energy in the third quarter, so we just kept going. We knew we had it in us.”

In the fourth quarter, however, Avonworth tightened up again on defense and sealed the win at the line, knocking down 13 of 22 shots from the charity stripe in the final frame.

“Third quarter is usually our strongest quarter,” Marcantino said. “They don’t quit. They always are fighters and they get after it. They did a good job in the third. We just couldn’t finish it out in the fourth.”

Avonworth will play the District 6 third-place team in the first round of the PIAA playoffs March 10. Laurel will take on the District 10 third-place team.

“I’m going to let the girls enjoy this. It’s a huge accomplishment,” Dizon said of the Lopes, who won their first WPIAL title since 2005. “We’ll get back to practice on Monday and shift the focus. We’re happy right now. They should be happy. They should be proud of themselves. But at the right time, we’ll get ready to get focused on states. This feels good now, but we have another game to play.”

Watch an archived video stream broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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