Basketball foes become teammates at Cager Classic

By:
Thursday, April 4, 2024 | 9:38 PM


The Highlands and Hampton boys basketball teams played nine times over the past four seasons, including a third time last year in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs.

Bradyn Foster, the Golden Rams’ 6-foot-8 senior center, knows all about what it was like in those bruising battles with the likes of Talbots seniors Peter Kramer and Alex Nyilas.

Over the next couple of days, he, along with his Highlands senior teammates, Jordyn Tavarez and Cam Reigard, don’t have to worry about again matching up against Kramer and Nyilas.

Instead, they get the opportunity to take the court on the same side.

Hampton and Highlands players will be a part of the West boys team against a group of seniors representing an East squad Saturday evening as part of the 27th Cager Classic all-star basketball games at Highlands High School.

“It’s nice to be able to play alongside them instead of having to try to beat them,” Foster said. “Those were great games with a lot of intensity.”

Foster said it is a great feeling to play one more game on his home court.

“This is definitely cool to play with Jordyn and Cam one more time,” he said. “We’ve been teammates for so long. We weren’t able to get the home playoff game we wanted. I really didn’t think about it then, but it’s great to play one more game on our home court at Highlands High School.”

A large crowd is expected for Saturday’s doubleheader that begins with the girls all-star game at 5:30 between the East team made up of players from Kiski Area, Fox Chapel, Butler, Riverview, Armstrong, Franklin Regional, Apollo-Ridge and Plum against the West squad of players from Knoch, Freeport, Highlands, Hampton and St. Joseph.

The boys game is at 8.

“It was pretty cool to watch the (Cager Classic) games the past two years,” said Kiski Area senior guard Abbie Johns, who saw former teammate Lexi Colaianni play in last year’s game. “It gave me the hope that I would get to play in it this year.”

Johns will team up with with section rivals Megan Marston and Pascale Olczak from Plum and Angelina Brush from Franklin Regional. She also will be reunited with Apollo-Ridge’s Sophia Yard, an AAU club teammate from their days in middle school.

“We had been talking about us possibly being on the same team, and it worked out that way. We’re really excited for that.

“After all the pressure games all season, it’s nice to be able to come together and be a part of a fun event that is relaxed. I am sure we will be telling a lot of stories about games from the season.”

The Highlands girls, like their Golden Rams male counterparts, will have one more chance to shine on their home court. Seniors Kate Myers, Kalleigh Nerone, Jocelyn Bielak and Shelby Novak suffered a WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinal loss to Laurel Highlands at home. But they bounced back and won two home games over section rivals Greensburg Salem and Knoch to secure a spot in the PIAA tournament.

Highlands’ Shawn Bennis will coach the West team, and Plum’s Rich Mull is the coach of the East girls.

“It is amazing that I get to play with and against such incredible talents in this game,” said Marston, a Case Western Reserve basketball commit. “These are the big names you’ve heard of from each team all year long. Now, we all get to come together on the court and celebrate each other’s games.”

The boys players from Highlands and Hampton will team with those from Freeport, Deer Lakes, Plum, Leechburg, Springdale and Cheswick Christian against a group from Kiski Area, Valley, Franklin Regional, Butler, Armstrong, Burrell, Riverview and Mars.

Deer Lakes’ Wayne Love and Billy Schaeffer will do battle a fourth time with Burrell’s Joey Discello, Esau King-Buchak and Macky Bennis. The Lancers swept all three games from the Bucs including an intense WPIAL Class 3A title game 55-49 at Petersen Events Center.

“I am just grateful to be able to participate in this game,” said Kiski Area’s Isaiah Gonzalez, part of a Cavaliers team that was twice competitive in losing efforts against eventual Class 5A state finalist Franklin Regional and its talented senior duo of Cam Rowell and Cooper Rankin.

Gonzalez now is a teammate of Rowell and Rankin on Saturday.

“I haven’t seen some of the guys on both teams in high school games, but I have played with and against them throughout AAU,” Gonzalez said. “This is just a great event every year. Seeing last year’s game, I knew that this was a goal of mine. I saw the players, and I wanted that to be me this year.”

Burrell’s Mike Fantuzzo will coach the boys East seniors, and Freeport’s Rich Macura will coach the West team.

Last year, Highlands’ Jimmy Kunst had 32 points as the West won the boys game 122-101, setting a scoring record for the event.

Freeport’s Melaina DeZort had 14 points to lead the West girls team to a 67-60 victory over the East.

A skills competition, featuring a 3-point shootout, individual hot-shot and co-ed hot shot will be Friday at 7 p.m., also at Highlands.

This is the first all-star opportunity for the area seniors, some of whom also will take part in the Roundball Classic at North Allegheny on Memorial Day weekend.

Cager Classic tickets, available at the door, are $6 for adults $4 for students.

27th Cager Classic

Friday and Saturday

Highlands High School

Rosters

Girls

East

1, Abbie Johns, Kiski Area

2, Isabella Barbour, Fox Chapel

3, Jessica Chwalik, Butler

4, Lola Abraham, Riverview

5, Emma Paul, Armstrong

11, Angelina Brush, Franklin Regional

14, Sophia Yard, Apollo-Ridge

25, Sarai Weaver, Armstrong

32, Skye Byrnes, Fox Chapel

34, Megan Marston, Plum

40, Pascale Olczak, Plum

Coach: Rich Mull, Plum

West

1, Adah Fuller, Knoch

3, Jaden Gaillot, Freeport

4, Kalleigh Nerone, Highlands

5, Naturelle Ewing, Knoch

11, Kate Myers, Highlands

12, Emma Rick, Hampton

14, Kathleen Milon, Hampton

15, Julie Spinelli, St. Joseph

22, Morgan Croney, Freeport

23, Shelby Wojcik, Highlands

24, Jocelyn Bielak, Highlands

25, Emma Swierczewski, St. Joseph

42, Brooke Kmetz, Freeport

Coach: Shawn Bennis, Highlands

Boys

East

0, Isaiah Gonzalez, Kiski Area

1, Jacob Staraniec, Valley

2, Cam Rowell, Franklin Regional

3, Cooper Rankin, Franklin Regional

5, Braylon Littlejohn, Butler

10, Isaiah Riggle, Armstrong

11, Joey Discello, Burrell

12, Nate Sprajcar, Riverview

13, Esau King-Buchak, Burrell

14, Remi Black, Mars

15, Jack Valasek, Armstrong

22, Macky Bennis, Burrell

Coach: Mike Fantuzzo, Burrell

West

0, Cameron Reigard, Highlands

1, Brady Sullivan, Freeport

2, Wayne Love, Deer Lakes

3, Alex Nyilas, Hampton

5, Billy Schaeffer, Deer Lakes

6, Brendan Getlak, Plum

15, Bradyn Foster, Highlands

23, Jordyn Tavarez, Highlands

24, Peter Kramer, Hampton

25, Brian Talarico, Leechburg

32, John Hughes, Springdale

33, Mason Gent, Springdale

34, Grant Rochkind, Cheswick Christian

Coach: Rich Macura, Freeport

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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