AVELLA – Jordan Watson wanted the knockout punch and he wanted it early.
From watching video and looking at past boxscores, the West Greene girls basketball team knew it was going to get Avella’s best punch.
“We knew (Avella) was going to come in and be ready,” Watson said. “This was like the Super Bowl for the section.”
Fending off an initial push from Avella, the nonstop Pioneers landed one gut-wrenching body blow after another. West Greene built an early lead behind balanced scoring and kept the Eagles at a distance for a 66-49 win Monday night in a battle for first place in Class A Section 2.
“We weathered that storm pretty well,” Watson said. “It was a slow grind.”
A slow, painful grind for Avella (4-1, 9-3), which watched the Pioneers use their athleticism to win their 39th consecutive section game and earn the outright section lead. It is a streak that started against the Eagles Feb. 5, 2016. The Pioneers have won nine straight against Avella.
The body blows delivered by the West Greene (6-0, 13-0) started with one that staggered the Eagles. Trailing 7-4 midway through the first quarter, the Pioneers went on an 18-3 run to take a double-digit lead early into the second quarter.
Avella would never catch up.
West Greene’s Anna Durbin, who scored a game- and career-high 20 points, made a layup with 54 seconds left in the first half to give the Pioneers their first 15-point lead of the night, 39-24.
“I think one of the main things (that motivates us) is that people underestimated us,” Durbin said. “People thought, well, we lost everybody and we wouldn’t be nearly as good.”
Durbin was one of four players for West Greene to score in double figures. Elizabeth Brudnock finished with 11. Jersey Wise and Brooke Barner each scored 10. Katie Lampe added nine points.
“I thought we did a good job making the extra pass,” Watson said. “We basically had five in double figures. When our balance is that good we are tough to stop.”
Balance and fast starts have been key to the Pioneers’ unbeaten start. In first quarters, they have outscored opponents 294-62. The unblemished record will be challenged again later this week with back-to-back games against Monessen and Bishop Canevin.
The problem for Avella is that the Pioneers never let off the gas pedal.
In foul trouble most of the night – Avella’s Bess Lengauer sat a majority of the first half after two early fouls – the Eagles would never trim the deficit back to single digits. Durbin caught and finished a full-court inbound pass from Jersey Wise to spark an eight-point run early in the third quarter. West Greene then had a pair of six-point runs late in the third and another middle of the fourth quarter.
“A lot of it was self-inflicted,” Avella coach Mike Drazich said. “We got ourselves in foul trouble, and when you don’t have your best players on the floor that hurts. We threw the ball away too many times. You can’t do that against them.”
Lengauer, despite being in foul trouble, led Avella with 10 points.
“It was a big statement,” Durbin said. “We have to prove that we are better than people would have thought. We are good enough to go back to The Pete.”