Rowan Carmichael’s 32 points lift Avonworth past Highlands in Class 4A 1st round

By:
Friday, February 16, 2024 | 10:12 PM


Highlands’ size can be an advantage, just not against a deceptively sturdy guard who made one big shot after another.

Avonworth’s Rowan Carmichael plays bigger than his lean 5-foot-11 frame might suggest. The junior scored a game-high 32 points with five 3-pointers Friday night as the sixth-seeded Antelopes defeated No. 11 Highlands, 74-59, in the first round of the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs.

Carmichael scored 11 points in the third quarter alone, key shots that let Avonworth build a second-half lead in a game tied at halftime.

“If you look at us against anybody, we’re going to be the smaller team,” Carmichael said. “But we play together, and we play really hard, so I think that goes a long way.”

That can describe him, too.

Carmichael shot 10 for 20 from the field while scoring in various ways. That included a 5-for-9 night from 3-point range — which for him starts well beyond the arc. To cap his big night, Carmichael was a perfect 7 for 7 from the foul line with six makes in the fourth quarter.

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Ah, that’s just normal,’” Avonworth coach Mike Mancuso said. “But when people see him for the first time and what he does, it’s special.”

Carmichael is the son of La Roche men’s basketball coach Hermie Carmichael. He entered the playoffs averaging 20 points per game, so he already was on Highlands’ radar as one of the top guards in the WPIAL.

But some of his long-range shots were from areas of the floor hard to defend.

“We knew what type of player he was,” Highlands coach Corey Dotchin said. “I thought the big thing for him was he saw his first shot go in and then he kind of relaxed and got some confidence. But he’s a good player — a coach’s son — and he gets it IQ-wise. Put that with the skill level he has, and he’s the total package.”

Avonworth senior Anthony Arlia had 18 points with three 3s after halftime.

The Antelopes (16-7) advance to face No. 3 Montour in the quarterfinals Wednesday. The teams share a section and split a two-game regular-season series.

Highlands (14-8) had three scorers in double figures. Jordyn Tavarez led with 17 points, Bradyn Foster had 16 and Cam Reigard added 12. The Rams had reached the WPIAL semifinals two years in a row, so this first-round exit was a difficult ending for team chasing another run.

“I told them they’ve got a lot to be proud of,” Dotchin said, “especially the three seniors who’ve been a part of multiple semifinal appearances.”

Highlands was still in the hunt to move on when the teams were tied 31-31 at half. But Avonworth started the second half with an 8-0 run including a steal and layup by junior Noah Quinn, two free throws by Carmichael and a 3-pointer by Arlia.

Carmichael held Highlands at bay with a couple of 3s in the third. He then grabbed a 52-42 lead late in the quarter when he split the lane for a driving layup.

Highlands closed the third with four points in the paint from Foster, narrowing Avonworth’s lead to 52-46.

But Avonworth had another 8-0 run to start the fourth when Arlia and Carmichael made consecutive 3s and Quinn followed with a layup to lead 60-46.

Carmichael’s 3-pointer was one of his high-arcing shots, this time from the left corner. Mancuso said his favorite part of Carmichael’s game is his knack for finishing at the rim, but the long-range 3s are what excite Carmichael most.

“Hitting a 3 is awesome,” he said. “Especially here. The crowd goes crazy.”

Highlands tried in stretches to ride on the shoulders of Foster, a 6-8 senior who had a size advantage in the paint. It worked at times, but Avonworth threw multiple defenders at the Penn recruit, who averages 21 points.

“We threw a zone at them early to try to confuse them a little bit, but then we also had a lot of backside help,” Mancuso said. “We wanted to front him. We wanted to be physical. … That lob pass is tough when you don’t have space to make it.”

Foster scored eight points in the second quarter and six more in the third but was held scoreless in the fourth.

“I feel like they just sent their whole team (at him),” Dotchin said. “He gets a lot of attention. They had one guy on him and four who were sinking in.”

Highlands took a 10-5 lead in the opening minutes of a back-and-forth first half, fueled by eight points from Reigard, who made consecutive 3s to start the game. Carmichael answered with a couple of 3s for Avonworth, which eventually led 19-18 after the first quarter.

There were two lead changes and three ties in the second quarter. A dunk by Foster just before halftime forced a tie at 31.

Avonworth has nobody who can match Foster’s size, but the Carmichael didn’t let that become a problem.

“My dad was in the military, I’m an Army brat, and we talk about toughness all the time,” said Mancuso, whose father, a retired lieutenant colonel, is one of his assistants. “He talks about that – how to be tough, how to be gritty. When you watch our team, you see it.”

Carmichael agreed.

“I think it’s just a mindset,” he said. “If I keep going strong to the basket, keep making plays, I have more confidence. It sets a tone for the rest of the 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.

Tags: ,

More High School Basketball

Results, top scorers, MVPs from the Roundball Classic
Mike Iuzzolino takes over Sewickley Academy boys basketball program
Belle Vernon hires former Shaler, Gateway coach to lead girls basketball program
20 years later, Roundball Classic continues to evolve
Steelers QB Russell Wilson to speak at Rising Stars underclassmen basketball practice