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Burrell girls lead Cager Classic win

| Saturday, March 22, 2014, 10:18 p.m.
Steve Dietz | For The Valley News Dispatch
East Team's Krista Pietropola looks to score against West Team's Christina Grzybek during the Cager Classic at Highlands High School on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Steve Dietz | For The Valley News Dispatch
West Team's Mallory Heinle runs the ball past East Team's Allyson Cujas during the Cager Classic at Highlands High School on Saturday, March 22, 2014.

Burrell's girls basketball team played 30 games this season, their final one less than a week ago.

That meant fresh legs when the team's three senior all-stars took the floor for the 18th annual Cager Classic on Saturday night.

And it showed.

Bucs players Kelsey Oddis, Jaila Manga and Jessica Cercone combined for 29 points to lead the East to a 81-64 victory over the West at Highlands.

“That's what we expected,” said East and Burrell coach Meghan Ziemianski, whose team started the game on a 15-4 run and swatted away a mild second-half comeback. “There isn't a whole lot of rhyme or reason (in an all-star game), but you can be confident when you look down the bench and know who you're putting in.”

Burrell, which finished 28-2, was honored with medals by the Cager committee for its 22-0 regular season and run to the WPIAL championship game and state final four.

Oddis finished with 14 points (12 in the first half), making 7 of 8 shots, and Manga added 11 (on 5-for-5 shooting) — a fine complement to the East-MVP performance of Plum's Krista Pietropola, who scored a game-high 17 points to go with six rebounds, five assists and two steals.

Plum's all-time leading scorer with 1,370 points, she hit 6 of 11 shots.

“You could tell the Burrell girls were in a lot better shape than a lot of us,” said Pietropola, a Youngstown State recruit who scored 12 points in the first half. “I hadn't played a game in a while. They made it easier for me. We all just clicked.”

Pietropola won the girls hot shot contest Friday night.

The East win evens the all-time series at 9-9.

The West got 14 points and eight rebounds from St. Joseph's Mallory Heinle, a Slippery Rock recruit.

Heinle took home West MVP honors, just the second Cager girls MVP in St. Joseph history.

Her brother, Brian, who plays at Pitt-Greensburg, also was a Cager MVP.

“The Burrell girls had so much chemistry, you could tell,” Heinle said. “They came out smooth. It was fun to play in this and win MVP. It keeps it in the family.”

Her teammate, Fox Chapel's Erin Mathias, also received an award to recognize her winning Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year. She scored 12 points and pulled down eight rebounds.

Mathias attracted a lot of extra attention this week because she is one of the Cager's most high-profile players. She will play at Duke.

“It was a good time, nice and laid back,” Mathias said. “I tried some things in this game I never tried on the court before.”

The East, which also got 13 points from Valley's Lashay Madison, took a 41-25 lead into halftime and stretched the margin to 18 (51-33) with 14 minutes to play in the second half.

But Tristan Cribbs of West Shamokin hit a 3 to start a 12-5 run and whittle the lead to 58-50 with 8:55 to go.

But Pietropola took a soft pass from Manga on the break, Emily Knepshield scored on a forceful drive and Cercone scored inside to put the East back in firm control at 66-50.

The West couldn't get it under 14 the rest of the way.

Manga's lay-in off a pass from Pietropola pushed it to 75-55 with 2:17 to play.

Ziemianski is 2-0 coaching the Cager, tying her with Paul Sylba (Freeport/Riverview) for most wins.

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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