By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
SCRANTON – Austin Finarelli squared up at the 3-point line for his first attempt of the 2021-22 boys basketball season.
Finarelli promptly released an air ball.
Through gestures and facial expressions, Dallas coach Mark Belenski playfully teased his returning all-star and Elizabethtown College-bound guard from the sideline.
Belenski was comfortable knowing that would not be the last shot the four-year starter would take in what turned into an impressive, 77-58 romp at Scranton Prep in the Dec. 11 season opener.
“He just smiled,” Belenski said. “Freshman year, he would have shut himself down.
“He won’t shut himself down now.”
And, the Cavaliers could not shut him down either.
Finarelli put up another 10 shots from beyond the arc, making 6. He took 19 more shots total, hitting 13.
By the time he was done, Finarelli had a career-high 35 points in an effort that led to his selection as the Center City Print District 2 Athlete of the Week for the time period ending Dec. 12 and covering the first three days of the winter sports season.
Finarelli, an Elizabethtown College-commit and second-team Wyoming Valley Conference Division 2 all-star selection last season by NEPABasketball.com, scored nearly half his points in a span of 5:40 of the second quarter, right after Nick Nocito hit three 3-pointers in less than two minutes.
“Nick started to hit shots,” Finarelli said, “so they started to guard him, which left me open.”
Finarelli made the Cavaliers pay, hitting six straight shots, including four 3-pointers and a drive that produced a three-point play.
“He’s our best shooter,” Belenski said, “but he likes to go to the rack.”
Mixing the long-range bombs with the ability to get to the basket, Finarelli put together 10 more points in a span of 4:20 during the fourth quarter to finish off the defending District 2 Class 4A champions.
“We didn’t play for a while, so we were all so excited to play someone who’s not wearing another Dallas jersey,” said Finarelli, who also contributed five rebounds, three steals and two assists to the win.
Finarelli averaged in double figures in scoring for the 2019-20 team that was in the state quarterfinals when the season was halted early by COVID and again in the shortened 2021 season. The combination he forms with Nocito in the backcourt is the biggest reason the Mountaineers are the clear favorite to win the WVC Division 1 title after moving back up this season.
“The more they get involved, the easier the game is going to become,” Belenski said.
Finarelli handled the scoring load, but also noted the Mountaineers easily moved 10 contributors through a lineup that appears significantly deeper than the inexperienced squad they took into last season.
“We played a lot of guys,” said Finarelli, who spent the offseason playing alongside Nocito with the NEPA Elite Coyle 17U AAU team out of Riverfront Sports in Scranton. “We’re deep. Everyone stepped up and did what they had to do.”
Austin, from Shavertown, is the son of Al and Jenine Finarelli.
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