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Cager Classic notebook: Highlands, Mars players bury hatchet for the weekend

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Thursday, March 26, 2015, 8:36 p.m.
Highlands' Kaison Branch (32) defends against South Fayette's  Jack Relihan during a WPIAL playoff basketball game Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, at Fox Chapel.
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
Highlands' Kaison Branch (32) defends against South Fayette's Jack Relihan during a WPIAL playoff basketball game Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, at Fox Chapel.

Highlands and Mars played three times this season in boys basketball.

Mars won all three pressure-packed games, by a combined 10 points. The Planets posted 60-55 and 61-60 wins in their Section 1-AAA meetings with the Golden Rams and a 61-57 victory in one of the new PIAA play-in games.

But the Cager Classic all-star game has a way of subduing even the most bitter rivalries and helping foes become friends. That will be the case again Saturday night when Highlands' Kaison Branch teams with Mars' Noah Tresky on the West team at the 19th annual Cager at Highlands.

“I don't like Mars,” Branch said, “but it will be fun to play with (Tresky). In the last game we played against (Mars) I missed a layup and it rolled around the hoop and rimmed out and we ended up losing. That was a tough one to take.”

They got skills

The Cager skills competition will begin at 7 p.m. Friday. There will be the three usual competitions: individual 3-point contest, individual hot shot contest, and co-ed hot shot contest.

In the hot shots, players shoot from small circles labeled with point values of 1 through 8 — 1 for a layup, 8 for a deep 3-pointer. In the co-ed, a boy and girl team up and alternate shots.

Couples night

Here are the teams for Friday's co-ed hot shot contest:

East: Tiffany Montgomery, Kittanning/Ryan McDermott, Leechburg; Christina Davis, Ford City/Noah Kunst, Kittanning; Claire Broman, Apollo-Ridge/Caleb Davis, Valley; Jame Reese, Valley/Jake Massack, Riverview; Leah Sero, Riverview/Zac Horner, West Shamokin; Courtney Zezza, Plum/Blake Bower, Ford City; Kyjiah Peterson, Kiski Area/Mike McGuire, Plum; Lizzy Cornish, West Shamokin/Wil Fuhrer, Plum; Leah Sero, Riverview/Tre Tipton, Apollo-Ridge; Alyssa Zezza, Plum/Joey Cox, Burrell; Sydney Bordonaro, Burrell/Mike Simmons, Kiski Area; Christina Davis, Ford City/Alex Smith, Apollo-Ridge.

West: Macy Smolic, Freeport/Jack Lundy, Fox Chapel; Ali Goetz, Mars/Matt Zanella, Knoch; Natalie Donegan, Hampton/Codey DiGiacobbe, Freeport; Erica Hunter, Knoch/Rob Friel, Cheswick Christian; Sara Getsy, Mars/Billy Urso, Fox Chapel; Vanessa Blazer, Fox Chapel/John Ferguson, St. Joseph; Shannon Bernardi, Highlands/Noah Tresky, Mars; Kristen Stanko, Deer Lakes/Jack Kramer, Hampton; Maddy Neligan, Hampton/Kaison Branch, Highlands; Rachel McKaveny, Springdale/Scott Ventura, Deer Lakes; Julie Hetu, St. Joseph/Jack Morrison, Hampton.

Fit to be tied

The Cager has seen its share of competitive games. The boys' and girls' all-time series are tied 9-9. Last year, the boys teams combined for a Cager record 221 points as the West won 112-109. The West scored 75 points in the second half, another Cager record.

The girls' record for points in one half is 56, set during the first year of the Cager, in 1997.

Quad-A presence

Quad-A players from two partcular schools have made their mark on the Cager over the years. The proof is in the record book. Fox Chapel has the most game MVPs, with 12 (7 girls, 5 boys) and Plum is second with seven (5 boys, 2 girls).

Plum's Nolan Cressler holds the Cager's scoring record with 38 points (2012), and Fox Chapel's Meagan Cowher has the girls' scoring mark with 29 points in 2004.

On a run

The Cager has been a local staple in A-K Valley basketball season since 1997. The event will turn 20 next year and is showing no signs of slowing down.

“I'm old, but I have some great young people with good ideas helping me,” Cager co-founder Glenn Mills said. “They are all great guys to work with. We want to keep this going.”

Jones out

Leechburg's Missy Jones withdrew from the Cager on Thursday. Organizers said she had “a family emergency.” That means the East will have 10 players.

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

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