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Knoch boys, Burrell girls send 'big 3' to Cager Classic

| Friday, March 21, 2014, 12:56 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Disp
Mars defender Nick DeCamp (right) tries to block Knoch's David Gallagher during a basketball game at Mars High School on Tuesday, January 14, 2014.
Valley News Dispatch
Knoch's #1 Austin Miller the ball to the hoop on Freeport's #42 Josh Beale during the 1st half of the game at Freeport High School on January 17th 2014. Steven Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Erica Dietz | Valley News Disp
Knoch's #23 Chris Kier attempts a lay-up past Mars' #15 Ethan Lewis during the basketball game at Mars High School on Tuesday, January 14, 2014.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Jessica Cercone, center, stops the Valley ball movement while playing defense during Tuesday night action at Burrell High School, December 17, 2013.
Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Jaila Manga (No. 5) wrestles for possession of the ball against Sharpsville's Kayla Kurelko (No. 25) during the first half of a PIAA second-round game on March 12, 2013, at Slippery Rock University's Morrow Field House.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Kelsey Oddis (right) reacts to winning a PIAA quarterfinal girls basketball game against General McLane at Sharon High School on Friday, March 14, 2014.

Move over Miami Heat. Knoch senior Austin Miller wants the spotlight turned on his team's trio.

“We're the real Big 3, not LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh,” Miller said.

Knoch has three players — one above the typical maximum — in the 18th annual Cager Classic all-star basketball game, which will be played Saturday night at Highlands.

The girls play after pregame introductions at 5:45 p.m., and the boys follow around 7:45 p.m.

Seniors Chris Kier and David Gallagher will join Miller in the senior showcase.

Teams usually send no more than two players to the Cager, but there was an exception made for two teams this year.

The Burrell girls also have three all-star selections, making this the first time in Cager history that three players from the same school were picked for the girls and boys games.

Burrell's three, Jessica Cercone, Kelsey Oddis and Jaila Manga, come into the Cager off the most successful postseason run in school history. They will play on the East team.

They had hoped to be preoccupied for Friday's Cager skills competition. The PIAA title game is noon Friday in Hershey, but they will have to take the Cager as a consolation prize.

One of only three Alle-Kiski girls teams to reach the state final four, Burrell went 28-2 and reached the PIAA Class AA semifinals after finishing runner-up in the WPIAL.

“I told them they haven't seen the last of us yet,” said Burrell coach Meghan Ziemianski, who will coach the East girls this weekend.

The coaches may have had something to do with the three-packs of picks. Knoch's Ron McNabb will coach the West boys.

Miller was asked if the West team will resemble Knoch, which lulled opponents into half-court basketball and took pride in a defense-first mentality.

“He's been joking for a few weeks about a delay game,” Miller said of McNabb, “but I think were gonna gun 3s all night.”

Gallagher said Knoch's three all-star picks are a reward, not charity.

“Considering the amount of work all of us have put into this game I think we are all very deserving,” said Gallagher, who is one to watch in Friday night's 3-point contest.

Gallagher said the Cager experience will have added significance to him because his brother Mike, a Knoch assistant and Cager alum, will join him on the West.

“I look forward to being coached by coach McNabb again; he's a great guy and knows what he is talking about,” Gallagher said.

“The future of Knoch basketball will be bright as long as he's around. But I'm more excited to have my brother on the bench next Saturday. He's helped coach the past two years, and it's been a great experience to have him be a part of my high school career.”

Burrell's three seniors have been contributing to the team's stellar run since they were freshmen. Burrell's record since those three have been contributing is 77-26, including 70-11 the last three years.

“I'm so excited to get to play with Jaila and Kelsey again,” Cercone said. “It definitely means a lot knowing that will be the last time we will all play together. This will be a great way to end our senior year.”

The 6-foot-1 Cercone doesn't plan to continue her playing career in college. She is going to major in pharmacy at Pitt.

Oddis has committed to play at Pitt-Greensburg.

“It will be like old times,” Oddis said. “Coach Meghan said she's is 1-0 coaching the Cager and doesn't want to lose. It should be fun.”

Cheswick Christian Academy has two boys in the Cager for the first time in Ian Swartz and JaJuan Malloy. Both will play for the West.

Bill Beckner Jr is the local sports editor of the Valley News Disptach. Reach him at

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