Highlands' Jonczak claims Cager's hot shot title
One might think that after four years of playing high school basketball, nerves would be the last thing to worry about as basketball players from 19 schools participated in the 21st Cager Classic skills competition Friday night at Highlands.
As it turned out, nerves were the only thing.
“I was actually really nervous, and I didn't think I was going to do good at all,” Highlands senior Ashlyn Jonczak said. “I was getting nervous after I missed the second 3-pointer at the top (of the arc).”
If Jonczak was nervous, it didn't show. The Carlow recruit came out on top in the individual hot shot competition, one of three contests held as part of the Cager festivities, which recognize seniors from the Alle-Kiski Valley and surrounding schools. The all-star games take place Saturday night.
Jonczak led the West team with 45 points after the first round, while Fox Chapel's Bryanna Urso finished with 32 to lead the East. Jonczak beat Urso, 49-32, to walk out of her home gym with the win.
Hampton's Antonio Ionadi ran away from the pack with his 57-30 win over Riverview's Nico Serro in the finals of the individual hot shot contest. Sero, Riverview's all-time leading scorer, wasn't ready to think about wrapping up his high school basketball career at the yearly event.
“I'm not sure I'm prepared,” Sero said. “We battle with these guys throughout the season and finally get to play together. It's an awesome experience.”
There were thoughts Ionadi could pull off the trifecta after his first-round performance in the 3-point shooting contest.
The Case Western basketball recruit finished with 16 points to lead the West team while Armstrong's Mike Kunst led the East with 13, but Kunst bested Ionadi, 17-14, to win the title.
In the girls' 3-point contest, Burrell's Eliza Oswalt got the better of Highlands' Nicole Boda, 16-13, to come out on top.
“I was kind of shocked that I did pretty good and came close to winning,” said Boda, who is considering playing at La Roche. “I was nervous.”
Most surprising was Cheswick Christian Academy's Ben Pollock showing his ability behind the arc.
The 6-foot-10 Mount Vernon Nazarene (Ohio) recruit showed he's more than just a big man by placing fourth with 12 points.
“I knew I wouldn't do that bad, but I didn't know that I would get second in our division,” Pollock said.
“I've always liked my outside/inside game. I'm honored to be here and at an all-star game. It's always a big deal to be at one.”
In the co-ed hot shot, Armstrong's Taylor Wood and Springdale's Sammy Carey came away as the top first-round scoring tandem with 48 points.
Wood and Carey faced Hampton's Jenna Lafko and Freeport's Kevin Lynch in the finals.
Wood and Carey made a late run before the buzzer, but Lafko and Lynch got the win 23-21 to wrap up the night's festivities.
“(The Cager Classic) is important because I know a lot of people here, and I want to shine,” Jonczak said. “It's my school, and I want to represent.”
The 21st annual Cager Classic All-Star basketball games will take place Saturday at Highlands, with the girls game at 5:45 p.m. and the boys at 7:45.
William Whalen is a freelance writer.