Freeport girls coach goes out with a win as West sweeps East at Cager Classic

Saturday, March 25, 2023 | 11:00 PM

Melaina DeZort’s favorite spot on the basketball court to shoot is the corners.

In the second half of the Cager Classic, she found her happy place and started hitting to help Team West overcome a double-digit deficit.

DeZort, a senior at Freeport, had 11 of her game-high 14 points in the second half, and West beat East, 67-60, in the 26th Cager Classic girls game Saturday night at Highlands.

The West also won the boys game, 122-101, setting a scoring record for the event. The old mark was 118, set in 2012.

DeZort made four 3-pointers. Three of those came in the second half.

“The corner was my sweet spot,” DeZort said. “It was a lot of fun to play in this game.”

DeZort helped send her high school coach, Fred Soilis, out a winner. Soilis announced earlier this month that he resigned from Freeport after eight seasons. The Cager Classic was his final game as a coach.

“It feels good because we didn’t have a great season (at Freeport),” DeZort said. “This kind of makes up for it a little bit.”

Claire Rodgers (Hampton) was the MVP of the West, and Olivia Donnelly (Mars) earned MVP honors for the East. Rodgers had 12 points, and Donnelly scored seven.

East held a 34-30 halftime lead and quickly turned that into double digits.

Camryn Rogers (Plum) scored the first six points of the second half, sparking a 10-0 run. Lauren Atwell (Mars) added a pair of free throws and, after a timeout, recorded a steal and went in for a layup. The run stretched the lead to 44-30.

West started chipping away. Camille Gigon, a French exchange student at Highlands, started it with a layup. Then Rogers got going, scoring nine of her 12 points in short order. DeZort hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 53-53. Then, Olivia Yancy (Armstrong) made one of two free throws to give East its first lead. Nina Shaw (Knoch) followed with a steal and pass to Rogers for a layup.

“That was fun,” Soilis said. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. We were down double digits, so I was happy that we were able to come back and win. It’s a great atmosphere. This is a great thing for the kids to send them out with their last high school game. It’s an honor to be a part of this event.”

Lexi Colaianni (Kiski Area) led the East with nine points on a trio of 3-pointers, and Brinley Toland (Apollo-Ridge) scored seven. Hattie McGraw (Knoch) had 12 points for West, and Yancy scored 11.

In the boys game, the West dominated from start to finish.

The halftime lead was 71-44. Jimmy Kunst (Highlands) had a game-high 32 points to earn MVP honors. Kunst scored 19 in the first half.

Highlands teammates Landan Signorella (16) and Chandler Thimons (14) were also in double figures for the West.

“It was amazing,” Kunst said. “It was my last time playing with my two (Highlands teammates), and just getting to know everyone, we formed some great bonds over the last couple days. We wanted to break the scoring record, and we did, so that was cool.”

West broke the scoring record on a layup by Zach Clark (Freeport) in the final minute.

Signorella had a dunk and a step-back 3-pointer, part of a memorable night in his final game in his own gym.

“I had a blast,” Signorella said. “Every one of these kids has great skill. I’ll remember this moment the rest of my life. After a long season of not getting a dunk, it felt good to finally get one.”

Ryan Porch (Butler) was the East MVP. He scored 22 points. Ben Hower (Riverview) added 17 points, and Cadin Olsen (Armstrong) scored 16 for the East.

Gavin Croney (Freeport) scored 20, and James Snyder (Knoch) netted 14.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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