The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

High School Sports

April 6, 2014

Offense key in past boys games

JOHNSTOWN — Defense wins championships. But in all-star events, offense is the name of the game.

Last year’s AmeriServ Senior Hoops Showcase boys contest broke the single-game scoring record as the two teams combined for 224 points.

The North beat the South 115-109.

While it would take an extraordinary effort, there is enough talent on each of the two all-star squads to threaten the combined 200-point mark again today when the seventh annual AmeriServ Senior Hoops Showcase boys game tips off at 3 p.m. at the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center. The girls contest begins at 1 p.m.

“Hopefully we can score 100 and hold them to 80 or something,” joked the North’s Kyle Flick of Richland.

“We have a lot of good talent from every school, Marcus Lee (Bishop Carroll), Blake Furman (Conemaugh Valley) and Tanner Ambrisco (Central Cambria),” said Flick, who also will be joined by teammates Matt Shaffer, Aaron Miller and Jake Lushko from the District 6-AA championship team. “It’s going to be interesting.”

In 2012, the South boys beat the North 105-94 in overtime for a total of 199 points.

In 2009, the Greater Johnstown squad edged the Cambria-Somerset team 102-99 as 201 points were tallied. In that game, Greater Johnstown trailed by as many as 17 points before coming back to force overtime and earn the win.

Shooting the ball shouldn’t be a problem today.

“We don’t have a whole lot of height, but we make up for it with guard play and quickness. The shooting ability is just off the charts,” said South coach Jude Leonardis of Windber. “That’s impressive the way these kids can shoot. It’s fun to watch them in practice.

“The Tomlinson boys (Dan and Devon of Windber) and (Shanksville’s) Ryan Platt, (Shade’s) Nash Walker, (Somerset’s) Connor Zarefoss and (Berlin’s) Jake Snyder all can shoot and they’re all good guards” the coach said, “Jake Snyder is one of the best 3-point shooters I’ve seen in the last 10 or 15 years.”

It’s official: The officials for today’s games will be the crew of Herb Moore, John Nakich and Tom Keller in the boys game; and Lynn Durst, Terri Piatak and Vicki Markiewicz in the girls game.

State honors: Two players in the Showcase earned third-team status on the Pennsylvania Sports Writers All-State team in Class A announced on Friday.

Bishop Carroll 6-foot-6 center Marcus Lee was a third-team boys pick after helping the Huskies reach the PIAA Class A semifinals.

Portage’s 6-foot-1 center Olivia McCabe also was a third-team pick after the Mustangs won the WestPAC and finished as District 6 runner-up.

In the minority: North girls coach Jodi Hillegass and guard Mackenzie Barbin shared a few memories and laughs during one of the squad’s practices at the Hilltop gym.

Hillegass recalled how Barbin was among a group of youngsters who attended one of the youth basketball camps she conducted at Westmont years ago.

“Mackenzie had on her McCort sweatshirt, and she and Lacey (Krouse) used to come to my basketball camps when they were younger in fourth or fifth grade,” Hillegass said of the pair of Crimson Crushers on the North team. “We would always be in the huddle and at the end of camp. It’s almost all Westmont kids, and we’d say, ‘One, two, three, Westmont.’ Then, Mackenzie would always go, ‘McCort.’ ”

Hillegass’ Westmont team and the Crushers have had a spirited and respectful rivalry for years.

“Coach Hillegass is a great coach,” Barbin said. “She’s always been on the opposite side. It’s going to be fun to play for her and to be a part of her team.”

Some things never change, though.

“I told her I’m not going to make you say Westmont,” Hillegass joked.

Hectic schedule: A group of players are scheduled to appear in their third post-season all-star game today in the Showcase.

Bishop Carroll’s Marcus Lee, Central Cambria’s Tanner Ambrisco and Conemaugh Valley’s Blake Furman each previously played in the Altoona Mirror Classic at Mount Aloysius on March 28 and in Friday’s Cambria County All-Stars basketball game at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.

Friday’s game matched high school all-stars against former NBA and pro players.

Berlin Brothersvalley’s Jake Snyder was an MVP of the District 5 all-star event at Chestnut Ridge on March 24 and played in the Classic.

Berlin Brothersvalley’s Shelby Coughenour, the West’s MVP, and Erica Craig each played in the District 5 girls game and the girls portion of the Classic.

Helpers: North coach Jerry Murphy of Bishop McCort said his players are capable of putting up points, but he’s been most impressed by the passes and assists he’s seen during practices.

“I like the way my team is sort of a loose group. They already have developed a friendship by knowing each other,” Murphy said. “We’re more concerned about actually sharing the ball than shooting the ball. Usually that’s not the case.

“They all know they can score. You don’t mind sharing the ball.”

Different perspective: Jodi Hillegass has plenty of all-star game experience. Hillegass coached in the 2012 AmeriServ Senior Showcase and in the Altoona Mirror Classic in 2007.

As a player, Hillegass was a key part of the Cambria County squad in the 1993 Big John Riley Classic at St. Francis University’s Stokes Field House.

A star at Ferndale High, Hillegass had 15 points in Cambria’s 77-63 loss to Blair County.

“I got to play in the Big John Riley Game, an all-star game, in high school,” said Hillegass, who went onto a four-year career in both volleyball and basketball at Elizabethtown College. “This is supposed to be a fun, special time.

“Once I told them that, they all seemed to let go,” she said of her players. “They were telling stories. It was neat that they dropped that (rivalry mind-set) in our first huddle. They want to play. They are building relationships.”

Voices: Tribune-Democrat sports writer Cory Isenberg will sing the national anthem at today’s games. Isenberg is a distinguished vocalist well-known on the sports scene.

Tribune-Democrat sports editor Shawn Curtis will handle public address duties. Curtis is experienced on the microphone as he formerly was Laurel Valley’s public address announcer during sporting events for many years until the school closed in 2010.

Curtis has also announced events at Ligonier Valley and Richland on occasion.

Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at


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