North Xtra: Avonworth gives fans reason for hope

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Avonworth boys basketball coach Dan Bradley said the reasons for his team’s success aren’t hard to discern.

“We’ve put in a lot of hours over the past three seasons, and the kids have bought into what we’re doing and they’ve jelled as a team,” said Bradley, who is in his fifth season as the Antelopes coach and also has been head coach of the Sto-Rox football team the past two autumns. “Things are starting to come together for us. We’re having a good season.”

Bradley believes the team’s balanced approach and improving health has been a winning formula.

Ranked fifth in the Post-Gazette’s Class AA rankings, Avonworth improved its overall record to 12-3 and is 8-0 in Section 6-AA after blasting Carlynton, 77-36, Tuesday at home.

The Antelopes gained sole possession of first place with a 56-54 victory against Quaker Valley on Jan. 3. The victory touched off a five-game winning streak that followed an unexpected 72-64 loss to Eden Christian on Dec. 28 in the Bishop Canevin Holiday Tournament.

“We had some injuries and illnesses going into the Eden game,” he said. “Over the past two weeks, that’s the healthiest we’ve been all year.”

Eric Gallupe, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, is the team’s leading scorer, averaging about 14 points and 12 rebounds per game.

“Eric rebounds the ball well offensively and defensively, and shoots well from outside,” Bradley said. “He’s also an excellent free-throw shooter. He mixes it up inside, and he’s also willing to take a charge.”

What makes the Antelopes so tough to figure out is that there is plenty of balance to support Gallupe’s team-leading effort.

Jamal Hughley, a 6-1 sophomore forward, Chris O’Malley, a 6-3 junior forward, Jesse Zubik, a 5-10 senior guard, Adam Joyce, a 5-11 junior guard) and Garrett Day, a 5-10 freshman guard, are all averaging about eight points a game.

“Hughley and O’Malley also are excellent rebounders,” Bradley said. “Hughley is averaging 10 rebounds a game, and O’Malley is averaging nine a game.”

Defensively, the Antelopes present plenty of problems for the opposition, Bradley said.

“Zubik, Joyce and Day are good on-the-ball defenders, and their intense play has led to a lot of easy baskets in transition,” he said. “They force a lot of turnovers.”

While the Antelopes have plenty to play for this season, Bradley has good reason to feel optimistic about his team in the next season or two. There are 19 players on the combined varsity/JV roster, and 14 of them will be back next season. Six are either freshmen or sophomores.

“We’re starting one or two seniors a game,” he said. “I think the best thing we have going for us is that we have balance and competitive practices.”

Following the victory against Quaker Valley, Bradley said Antelopes fans and some former players have shown interest in the team’s progress.

He especially hopes for their support when Quaker Valley visits Avonworth Tuesday. Still, there are plenty of challenges for the Antelopes, and a big one takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday when Avonworth travels to Sto-Rox.

It’s a meaningful game in that it’s a section game. For Bradley, it’s important as he coached several members of the Vikings basketball team to the WPIAL Class A football championship game in November.

“We’re used to it now,” said Bradley of his dual responsibilities with Avonworth and Sto-Rox.

He’ll be starting his third season with Sto-Rox next fall. For the moment, though, he’s trying to find a way to make it a clean sweep of the Vikings. On Dec. 20, Avonworth eked out a 51-45 victory against visiting Sto-Rox.

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