Having pumped in 68 points in his team’s first two playoff games, Avonworth junior guard Rowan Carmichael came into the WPIAL semifinals as one of the area’s hottest players.

In turn, it made Carmichael the focus of Hampton’s defense Saturday when the teams met with a spot in the Class 4A final on the line.

“It’s 32 and 36 [points],” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that’s one guy you’ve got to pay attention to.”

Lafko isn’t a rocket scientist, but rather a high school social studies teacher, and his team earned high grades Saturday with their ability to slow down Carmichael as No. 2 Hampton surged into the championship game for the first time since 2017 following a 61-39 win against No. 7 Avonworth at North Allegheny.

Hampton (22-3) will meet No. 1 and defending champion Lincoln Park (22-3) in the final at 9 p.m. next Thursday at Petersen Events Center.

Standout senior guard and Lehigh recruit Peter Kramer scored a game-high 25 points for Hampton, which won its ninth game in a row. But coming up just as big was senior point guard AJ Prodente. Prodente scored only three points, all on free throws, but he was outstanding defensively after being given the assignment of faceguarding Carmichael throughout. Carmichael averages 21 points a game on the season and earlier in the week became Avonworth’s all-time leading scorer. But against Hampton, Carmichael didn’t score his first points until there was 2:40 left in the third quarter and finished with six points on 2-of-12 shooting from the field.

“He’s got it all,” Kramer said of Prodente. “He’s relentless. He’s probably our best on-ball defender and he’s just a great point guard. He knows his role really well. And I think that’s the best thing about AJ this year, he’s been just so unselfish. Guarding Carmichael, that’s not an easy task, so he did a great job tonight.”

Likewise with Kramer, who is making the most of his final WPIAL playoff run after being ruled ineligible for last season’s playoffs after transferring from Shady Side Academy, which he helped win the WPIAL Class 3A championship in 2022. Kramer, who averages 23 points a game, was 9 of 20 from the field with three 3-pointers and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line Saturday, while also adding seven assists.

“It feels amazing,” Kramer said. “Last year was definitely tough sitting on the sidelines for the playoffs, but I think that kind of drove me. And we’ve got a great team. We’ve played some great basketball at the start of the playoffs, and I think we’re all just excited about Thursday night.”

That excitement showed against Avonworth (17-8) when Hampton scored the first seven points of the game and held an 18-5 lead after eight minutes of play. Noah Goetz scored 10 of his game-high 17 points in the second quarter for Avonworth to trim the Antelopes deficit to 25-21 at the half, but Kramer and Alex Nyilas connected on 3-pointers early in the third quarter to extend the Hampton advantage back to double-digits. And by quarter’s end, Hampton was back up big, 42-27.

“Those guys have that ability to knock down perimeter shots,” Lafko said. “We’re confident in them. Peter is a gamer. He wants the ball in his hands when there’s a clutch situation. Those 3’s really got the game to where we were in a double-digit lead again and we never looked back.”

Hampton’s Liam Mignogna, a 6-foot-9 forward, added 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting, while Nyilas finished with seven points.

Anthony Arlia knocked down three 3-pointers and chipped in 10 points for Avonworth, which was trying to reach the final for the second time in three seasons.

Hampton’s AJ Prodente guards Avonworth’s Rowan Carmichael during Saturday’s WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinal won by Hampton, 61-39. Prodente scored only three points, but was excellent defensively in holding Carmichael, Avonworth’s leading scorer, to six points. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Other Class 4A semifinal

• Meleek Thomas scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter for Lincoln Park (22-3), which pulled away late to advance to the title game for the eighth time in nine seasons after a 74-63 win against No. 4 Uniontown (21-4) at Peters Township. Lincoln Park, which has won 35 consecutive games against WPIAL opponents, led by two points after three quarters before outscoring Uniontown, 19-10, in the fourth. Brandin Cummings added 16 points and Rhaki Lum chipped in 12 for the Leopards, who were held below 80 points for the first time in 12 games. Jamire Braxton scored a team-high 24 points for Uniontown, tallying all of the team’s fourth-quarter points. Notorious Grooms knocked down five 3-pointers among his 17 points for the Red Raiders, who were playing in the semifinals for the first time since 2004 and were looking to reach the final for the first time since 2002. Lincoln Park had also defeated Uniontown, 85-64, in last season’s PIAA semifinals.

Class 1A semifinals

• In a rematch of last season’s championship, RJ Sledge scored 28 points and Nate Brazil had 26 as No. 1 and defending champion Imani Christian (13-11) reached the century mark in a 101-67 win against No. 5 Union (14-11). Lucas Stanley poured in 37 points for Union after putting up 35 in a quarterfinal win against Monessen. Following a first quarter that saw the teams knotted up at 17 apiece, Imani Christian outscored Union, 24-13, in the second quarter to take a double-digit halftime lead. Sledge scored 12 of his points that quarter for the Saints, who also got 17 points from Avery Wesley in the game and improved to 12-0 against WPIAL Class 1A teams this season. The teams were meeting in the WPIAL playoffs for the fourth year in a row. Imani Christian beat Union, 64-41, in last season’s final. 

• Freshman Kedron Gilmore’s 20 points propelled No. 2 Neighborhood Academy (18-5) into the title game for the first time after defeating No. 3 Rochester (17-7), 62-41, at Montour. The Bulldogs, who were making their first appearance in the semifinals, led by eight points at the half before breaking the game open in the third by outscoring Rochester, 25-14, to take a 52-33 advantage. Yale recruit Courtney Wallace added 18 points and Shamar Simpson had 15 for the Bulldogs, who have won 12 of their past 13 games. Xavier Rigby scored 12 points for Rochester, which had won 10 of 11 and was seeking its first finals berth since 2021. Imani Christian is the only Class 1A team to defeat Neighborhood Academy this season, beating the Bulldogs by scores of 80-51 and 72-56 in the regular season. 

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.