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Mars pair combines to take over Cager Classic

| Saturday, March 19, 2016, 11:39 p.m.
Steven Dietz | for the Tribune Review
Team West’s Jamison Nee attempts a lay-up past Team East’s James Edwards during the Cager Classic at Highlands High School on Saturday, March 19, 2016.
Steven Dietz | for the Tribune Review
Team East’s Brendan Lettrich drives the ball past Team West’s Jack Diehm during the Cager Classic at Highlands High School on Saturday, March 19, 2016.

Mars' duo of Christian Schmitt and John Castello made their presence known from the West's first basket until the final buzzer Saturday night at the 20th annual Cager Classic.

Just back from Hershey, where they played in the PIAA Class AAA championship game Friday night, Schmitt tossed an alley-oop to Castello, who threw down a dunk, for the West's first points of the night.

Talk about Mars Attacks.

From there, the pair combined for 43 points, on 14-for-21 shooting, and helped the West to a record-breaking win over the East, 109-82, at Highlands.

The 27-point margin of victory broke the mark of 23 set by the 2005 West team and later tied by the 2009 East team.

Castello finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds to take West MVP honors. Schmitt had 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

“It was great to come here and play one more game with my man, John,” said Schmitt, who will walk on at Furman. “This was a pretty memorable weekend for us; pretty unbelievable.”

As for that alley-oop: “It came naturally,” Schmitt said. “It wasn't drawn up. It was a break; we have done it so many times.”

Josh Beale of Freeport added 18 points for the West, and West Shamokin's Brandon Stover (12 points) and Highlands' Jamison Nee (10) also scored in double figures for the West, which made 13 3-pointers — five by Schmitt.

“I wasn't sure if we'd have tired legs coming back (from Hershey), but it ended up being a lot of fun,” said Castello, a Shippensburg recruit, who shot 6 for 8 from the field. “There was some great competition here tonight. I am glad we decided to play.”

West coach Mike Beale of Freeport was pleased with the fast-merging chemistry he saw in his team.

“This was so much fun for our guys and us coaches,” Beale said. “You could see the camaraderie forming in minutes, in the locker room. We told the kids to go out and play it like a championship game.”

The West outscored the East, 63-41, in the second half. A 20-7 run, including a dunk by Castello, a 3 by Schmitt and a three-point play by Bobby Piskor (St. Joseph) pushed the margin to 86-62.

The East could only cut it to 17 the rest of the way as Kiski Area's DeShawon Bracy scored 10 of his team-high 17 points in the final five-plus minutes.

It looked like the East's game early on.

Burrell's Brendan Lettrich gave the East six straight points off the bench and his layup off a behind-the-back pass from Mike Zappala put his team in front, 26-18.

The East led by 11 in the first half on a turnaround jumper by Brandon Heilman (Armstrong), who had nine points and eight rebounds.

Lettrich, who finished with 12 points, was awarded the East MVP. Like his teammates, he was left to ponder what might have been had the Mars players not made it back for the Cager.

“When we saw Mars made the state finals we were hoping (Schmitt and Castello) wouldn't be able to make (the Cager),” Lettrich said. “They're great kids. I wanted to come in here and have fun; not hog the ball, just fit in and play well.”

Lettrich is headed to Pitt to major in engineering, so Saturday marked his final organized basketball game.

The West rallied to take a 46-41 lead into halftime. Reserve Stover scored eight of the West's final 10 points of the half.

Plum's James Edwards, an Air Force recruit, added 12 points for the East.

The Cager committee had a moment of silence pregame for Terry Conroy, a longtime volunteer who died last month of cancer. He was 69.

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