North Xtra: Avonworth takes a leap into spotlight

Brad Everett's high school basketball notebook

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It counted as just one win, but Avonworth's 56-54 triumph at Quaker Valley last Friday felt like much more than that to a team that could be destined for a season unlike any the program has seen in decades.

Avonworth beat rival and previously undefeated Quaker Valley for the first time in 10 years -- ending an eight-game losing skid against the Quakers -- and moved into sole possession of first place in Class AA Section 6. The Antelopes haven't won a section title since 1974.

"It meant a lot to us," Avonworth coach Dan Bradley said. "To win down at QV was great. The last couple of years we got blown out down there. We'd play them close at home, but at their place, the games haven't been close. For us, it means a lot."

Avonworth was 7-3 overall and 4-0 in section play before Wednesday's non-section game against Quigley Catholic. The Antelopes play host to South Side Beaver in a section game Friday night.

The Antelopes don't have any stars and their team statistics aren't dazzling, but they boast a lengthy list of solid players -- Bradley goes nine deep in his rotation -- who have shown steady improvement as the season has progressed.

Bradley has been getting frequent double-digit scoring contributions from a multitude of players, a group highlighted by 6-foot-2 senior forward Eric Gallupe, who averages team highs of 13.5 points and 12 rebounds per game.

"He's a smart kid. He has a high basketball IQ," Bradley said. "He's one of those guys who does work inside and outside. With that flexibility at his position, he also shares the ball well. When someone is open, he gets the ball to them.

"Defensively, he takes charges. Over the past three seasons, he's probably set a record for most charges taken."

Chris O'Malley, a 6-3 junior forward, and 5-10 freshman guard Garrett Day have been the other mainstays in the starting lineup.

Avonworth is strong at the guard position. Among the contributors are 5-9 junior Josh Drwal, 5-11 junior Adam Joyce, 5-10 senior Jesse Zubik and 6-0 senior Dalton Day.

In addition to Gallupe, the frontcourt features 6-1 sophomore Jamal Hughley and 6-2 senior Andrew Broadus.

"I would think our depth and our guard play [are the biggest strengths]," Bradley said. "We're a difficult team to press and trap because we have a good amount of ballhandlers. I think our depth has shown throughout the season."

A season ago, Avonworth went 13-10 and finished third in the section with an 8-4 record. The Antelopes sported a winning record for the second season in a row and earned their first WPIAL playoff berth since 2001.

It's been a big turnaround for Avonworth, which has gone through some rough seasons over the years. Among the toughest times was a two-season stretch in 2006-07 and 2007-08 that saw the Antelopes go 0-28 in section action and win just six games overall.

The Antelopes hope to continue their ascent this season. The to-do list includes winning a WPIAL playoff game for the first time since 2001 and picking up their first PIAA playoff win since 1992.

Oh, yeah ... Claiming their first section title in 40 years would be pretty big, too.

"We haven't talked about [winning the section], but it's in our hierarchy of goals," Bradley said. "The basketball history at Avonworth hasn't been solid in a lot of years, but we're making strides. With each game, we hope to take care of the small things and hope the bigger things come down the line."

Weekly watch

Here are a few boys games to keep an eye on this week:

Fox Chapel at Plum, Friday, 7:30 p.m. -- It's a big week for these contenders for the Class AAAA Section 2 title. After hosting Gateway (8-3, 4-0) Wednesday, Fox Chapel (10-1, 3-1) must travel to Plum (9-1, 3-1), which has the stingiest defense in Class AAAA (42.4 points per game). Fox Chapel's Matt D'Amico leads the section in scoring with 23 points per game, and teammate Brian Papich had a triple double last week against Penn Hills.

New Castle at Hampton, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. -- This is the one everyone has been waiting for. No. 1 travels to No. 2 in this titanic Class AAAA Section 3 showdown between teams who have met in the past two WPIAL championship games (Class AAAA in 2013; Class AAA in 2012). Each team has been dominant thus far. Hampton (11-0, 4-0) has beaten its section foes by an average of 39 points. New Castle (9-0, 4-0) has won its section games by an average of 30 points.

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