A-K Valley shooters on target at Cager Classic skills competition

Friday, April 5, 2024 | 10:12 PM

The top senior talent in the Alle-Kiski Valley and surrounding communities gathered Friday at Highlands to match shooting skills in a competition to kick off the two-day Cager Classic all-star celebration.

For Kalleigh Nerone, a Bloomsburg commit and a member of the West girls representing Highlands with teammates Shelby Wojcik, Kate Myers and Jocelyn Bielak, the 3-point and hot-shot events were a fun showcase of talent in front of an enthusiastic crown in their home gym.

“For everyone to be here showing their skills without the pressures we face with regular games during the season, it’s so cool,” she said. “It’s all pretty relaxed and also upbeat with the music playing. Everyone wants to win, but we’re out there cheering on our teammates and also those from other teams.”

In the solo and co-ed hot-shot, participants unleashed shots from designated spots on the court worth various amounts of points. The further out one shot and was successful, the more points were earned.

Each shooter had one minute to collect as many points as possible.

Kiski Area’s Isaiah Gonzalez won the boys solo hot shot with 49 points in the finals against Hampton’s Peter Kramer. He edged Kramer, a Trib HSSN boys all-star, by three points.

“I shot it a little bit better than I thought I would,” Gonzalez said. “It was a Wilson ball, so I thought it might be a little rough, but I guess it wasn’t. Peter is a great shooter, so I knew that I was going to have to shoot really well to beat him.”

St. Joseph’s Julie Spinelli, the Valley News Dispatch Girls Player of the Year and a Frostburg State commit, took the girls solo hot shot. She bested Kiski Area’s Abbie Johns, 30-20, in the head-to-head finals.

“Even though it’s a fun and laid-back thing, I still wanted to be competitive and wanted to win,” Spinelli said. “There wasn’t any surprise that Abbie made the finals. She’s an amazing shooter and was great player throughout our high school careers. It was fun to go up against her.”

Sarai Weaver from Armstrong and Joey Discello from Burrell of the East claimed the co-ed hot shot title with 65 points in the finals. They bested Hampton’s Emma Rick and Cheswick Christian Academy’s Grant Rochkind.

“We just went out there and tried to make some shots. That’s all you really can do,” Discello said. “When the first one goes down, it calms you a little bit and you can keep shooting. We were both making them and really getting into a groove. It was fun.”

Burrell’s Macky Bennis, from the East boys, had a shoe malfunction early in his minute of hot-shot shooting. His right shoe came off, and he ended up taking the rest of his shots in one shoe and one sock.

Bennis was able laugh off the misfortune with many of the other players.

“They gave us some socks, and they’re a little slippy on the bottom,” said Bennis, who finished his one minute with 13 points. “My shoes weren’t tied too tight, and one of them came off. I was slipping a little on the court. It definitely affected the way I was shooting. But things happen, and this is all about having fun, so it wasn’t a big deal.”

The 3-point competition featured players shooting from five designated spots along the 3-point perimeter.

Each player had 60 seconds to fire away three balls worth one point and a money ball worth two points from each of the five racks. The most a player could earn was 25 points.

Fox Chapel’s Skye Barnes and Hampton’s Kathleen Milon finished tied after two final rounds. After each took a combined 40 shots in both rounds, they came right back and shot the five money balls.

Milon outlasted Barnes, 2-1.

“The season was over, and I hadn’t shot in a while, but I knew I had to do my best, and I was able to hold on,” Milon said. “I’ve known Skye for a long time. She is a great shooter.”

Rochkind was solid in the boys finals. He bested Riverview’s Nate Sprajcar and Armstrong’s Jack Valasek from the East boys team. Sprajcar and Valasek finished tied in the preliminary round, and both advanced to the finals.

Rochkind, somewhat of an unfamiliar commodity having not played many WPIAL teams during his high school career, was pleased to be able to show what he could do.

“I was just grateful for this opportunity to shoot in this competition,” Rochkind said. “I felt pretty good throughout all of the racks. I just got in a rhythm. It was really cool to get the crowd going. I was feeding off their cheers.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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