Ford City, Kittanning making final appearances at Cager Classic
Greg Hutcherson knows better than to try to turn the Cager Classic into a Ford City game.
Half-court, slow-down basketball with zone defense packed into the paint: it was the Sabers' bread and butter.
That might be a fitting way for Ford City to leave its final impression on the area's all-star weekend at Highlands, but Hutcherson, the Sabers' last coach, plans to rev it up instead.
“Oh, we're going to run; it's get out and go,” said Hutcherson, who recently was named Armstrong's boys coach. “We have (Tre) Tipton, (Mike) Simmons, (Noah) Kunst. We're not going to pull a Mike Nagy and slow it down and run defensive drills in practice. This is an all-star game. Nobody wants to watch a slow-down game.”
Saturday's Cager games — girls at 5:45 p.m., boys at 8 — will be the last for players from Ford City and Kittanning. The rival schools will merge to form Armstrong next school year.
Ford City and Kittanning have sent standout seniors to the Cager since it began in 1997.
Ford City's final participants will be Blake Bower and Christina Davis; Kittanning's are Noah Kunst and Tiffany Montgomery.
Kunst, who led Kittanning in scoring with 17.6 points a game, wants Saturday's game to be memorable in a number of ways.
“I want to show my school well for the last year,” said Kittanning guard Noah Kunst, who will play for the East. “I know I'll be the last one to wear the jersey. I haven't been to (the Cager) before, so I am excited to play in it.”
Kunst missed seven games with an injury, so the Cager will serve as a sort of bonus for him.
“I feel like everybody thinks that way,” he said. “It will be nice to get back on the court.”
Al Davis, who coached Ford City's girls team for the last 16 years and is retiring as a varsity coach, will coach the East girls Saturday.
“I'm excited to get a chance to work with all of the talent in the area,” Davis said. “It should be a lot of fun. We should have a pretty good team.”
Davis had a record of 294-106 in 16 seasons as head coach. He was an assistant for four years and didn't miss the playoffs in 20 years. The Sabers capped their final season with a playoff trip in their first season in Class AAA.
Davis said he will coach the eighth-grade boys team at Armstrong.
“I still want to help out Hutch,” he said. “I just didn't want to travel anymore. I wanted to stay local. I still enjoy it.”
Davis, 65, who retired from Eljer Pottery in Ford City after 36 years, acknowledges the uniqueness of being able to coach at one place for so long.
He also was a quality caster on the basketball court.
“Not being a teacher, and with one-year contracts, I was lucky to have a job for that long,” he said. “I feel fortunate.”
Davis coached one other time at the Cager. He guided the East girls to a 79-72 win in 2006 in the only Cager game to go to overtime.
Christina Davis, who weaved a number of double-doubles into her senior season, averaged 15.8 points and eight rebounds this year.
“I'm excited to play with the talented girls from around the area,” she said. “It's bittersweet to be able to participate in the game, especially with my own coaches coaching me one last time. I'm honored to be the last player to represent Ford City, which is a school with a strong basketball background. I hope to make the town proud, and most importantly, have fun.”
Hutcherson coached several of this year's Cager all-stars in his Top Level AAU program.
“It's a great honor,” Hutcherson said. “In the A-K Valley, the Cager is a great event. Being the last coach at Ford City, alongside Al Davis, it's a wonderful thing.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.