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Teams set mark for 3-pointers as East boys nip West, 110-109, in Cager Classic

| Sunday, March 29, 2015, 12:15 a.m.
Steven Dietz | Trib Total Media
Apollo Ridge's Tre Tipton shoots a jump shot over Hampton's Jack Morrison during the Cager Classic on Saturday, March 28, 2015, at Highlands.
Steven Dietz | Trib Total Media
Plum's #11 Wil Fuhrer drives the ball on Knoch's #13 Matt Zanella during the Cager Classic at Highlands High School on Saturday March 28th 2015.
Steven Dietz | Trib Total Media
Freeport's Codey Digiacobbe drives the ball on Plum's #3 Mike McGuire during the Cager Classic at Highlands High School on Saturday March 28th 2015.
Steven Dietz | Trib Total Media
West Shamokin's #32 Zac Horlier drives the ball on Hampton's #5 Jack Kramer during the Cager Classic at Highlands High School on Saturday March 28th 2015.

Playing with intensity down the stretch, the East boys outlasted the West, 110-109, to win the 19th annual Cager Classic on Saturday night at Highlands.

More than 1,200 watched as the teams seesawed and let it fly, breaking the Cager record for combined 3-pointers with 33 — the West made 19 — and coming within three points of breaking the combined scoring record of 221 points set last year.

The fast-paced play provided one of the more exciting games in the event's history.

The East, which took a 10-9 lead in the all-time series, had six players score in double figures, led by Kiski Area's Mike Simmons' 23. Tre Tipton of Apollo-Ridge added 17 and grabbed 13 rebounds to take his team's MVP honors, the first boys player from his school to win the award.

Tipton, a Pitt football recruit, gave his trophy to first-grader Noah Stewart, who he called his No. 1 fan, after signing a number of autographs for other young fans.

“He deserved it,” Tipton said.

Alex Smith of Apollo-Ridge scored 14, Burrell's Joey Cox and West Shamokin's Zac Horner had 13 apiece, and Kittanning's Noah Kunst added 11 for the East, which connected on 14 3s.

Tipton, Simmons and Smith grew up playing AAU together for Top Level, which is run by Greg Hutcherson, who coached the East.

“You can see how we click,” Tipton said. “We figured this could turn into a 3-point shootout, and it did. It was a pleasure getting to play with all these all-stars.”

Hutcherson, Ford City's final coach and the first coach of soon-to-open Armstrong, was used to slow-down, half-court basketball. The pace had him grinding his teeth a bit, but he was thrilled to get the win.

“It's an all-star game, but you still want to see some defense,” Hutcherson said with a smile. “It was tough for me to see all that scoring. The support tonight was great. Both players and parents.”

The Cager was the last for players from merging schools Ford City and Kittanning.

The East finally seized control and was able to exhale when Horner knocked the ball away from Fox Chapel's Billy Urso, the West MVP, with 23 points and six assists, just inside 20 seconds to play. The ball ended up in Tipton's hands, and the East dribbled it out to kill the final seconds.

Rather than finish a fastbreak, Horner kicked the ball back out to seal it. The West had won a late jump ball when Jack Lundy tied up Tipton under the hoop.

“We brought Zac in off the bench with 20 seconds left to guard Urso,” Hutcherson said. “He came up big.”

The West led by eight in the first half and took a 53-49 lead into halftime on the strength of 11 3s, including five by Hampton's Jack Morrison, who finished with a game-high 24 points.

Kaison Branch (Highlands) scored 16, including a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left to get the West within 110-109. Scott Ventura of Deer Lakes added 12 points, all on 3s, Knoch's Matt Zanella had 12 points, and Jack Lundy of Fox Chapel added 10 for the West.

Ventura gave the West its last lead at 95-92. Cox made a 3 to tie it and the East surged ahead.

Simmons, who has not committed to a college, scored six straight points, and Kunst hit a runner and a 3-pointer to put the East up 106-98 with about three minutes remaining.

Urso hit back-to-back 3s and Branch followed with one of his own, but the late rally fell short.

“We just wanted to come in here and have some fun; it's a great event,” Simmons said. “(Tipton and Smith) and I haven't played together for three years, but you couldn't tell tonight.”

Urso, another college recruit still on the market, made four 3-pointers.

“We knew it would come down to the wire,” Urso said. “I wish we could have got the job done, but it was a great experience and a fun weekend.”

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

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