CRESSON - A lot of players come into the Altoona Mirror Basketball Classic with something to prove, but Marion Center's Todd Fetsko had a little extra motivation.
Fetsko had his own cheering section right behind the scorers' table.
"Those are my senior teammates, and they're my best friends," Fetsko said. "I love each and every one of them. They even came back from a baseball game just to be here for me."
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich and Patrick Waksmunski
Members of both teams shake hands following the completion of the game.
Blair County’s Jonah Salyards shoots over Central PA’s Walker Bannister.
They yelled encouragement and instructions from to Fetsko from the moment he came to check into the game late in the first quarter. He didn't let them down, leading seven Central PA all-stars in double figures with 19 points and capturing MVP honors for his squad in a 121-107 win over Blair County in the boys half of the ninth annual doubleheader on Friday night at Mount Aloysius College's new Athletic Convocation and Wellness Center.
It was the seventh win in the series for the Central PA boys and their fifth in a row, but it didn't come easy. Tyrone's Brandon Gripp, who flirted with the game scoring record and finished with a contest-high 24 points, had Blair County withing 94-91 when he drove for a bucket and was fouled with about 7:40 remaining.
Central PA, though, finally shook free at that point, going on a 23-10 run over the next 5:30.
"We felt we were in control the whole game. Then, every time, we'd look at the scoreboard, we'd say, 'Didn't we just have a 10-point lead?'" Fetsko said. "But it was good. It was way more fun this way. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Altoona's Manny Span joined Gripp as the only two players to crack the 20-point mark, hitting 8-of-10 shots to finish with 21 points to go along with a team co-high nine rebounds. After giving up the first four points of the contest, the Blair team actually grabbed a 9-6 lead before falling behind by 13.
Blair County, though, fought back to trim the difference to four points by halftime and got it as close as three after trailing by 10 or more three times in the second half.
It was the second-closest Central PA win of the series.
"We all have heart," Span said of the Blair players. "I led my [high school] team. Brandon led his team. Jordan [Miller] was the second-best scorer [at Tyrone]. We had C.J. [Fulare] and Damon [Rickens from Bishop Guilfoyle]. We had so many hearts, and they had big names. We encouraged, and we just kept going at it."
In the end, though, there was just too much firepower on the Central PA side. In addition to Fetsko's 19, Bishop Carroll's Marcus Lee, State College's Michael Beattie and Homer-Center's Joe Capitosti scored 15 points apiece. Central Cambria's Tanner Ambrisco finished with 13 points, and Northern Bedford's Blake Over and Conemaugh Valley's Blake Furman each netted 11.
"I don't think we even had chemistry. We were just feeding the hot hand," said Ambrisco, whose five assists were the most of any player in the game. "It was Todd, then it was me, then it was Marcus, then it was Kyle Flick. We did that in practice. If you were making shots, you shot."
Flick ended up with nine points, and Juniata Valley's Caleb Taylor scored six. Central PA shot 57.5 percent from the field, making 10 of 26 3-pointers to go along with 62 points in the paint.
"It was just a bunch of all-stars. We gelled together, and it was fun. We had a good time," Taylor said. "We'd get a lead and they'd come back. It was all fun, though."
Blair County had its share of firepower, too. In addition to Gripp and Span, Altoona forward Tony Acrie tallied 15 points.
But it was Gripp who put on a show for much of the night. He was equally adept driving to the basket as shooting from beyond the arc - the Tyrone guard was 10-for-15 from the field, made 3-of-7 3s and also pulled down eight rebounds while handing out two assists.
He finished three points shy of Luke Ottaway's game record of 27 points in 2009. He tied Steve Catich and Jordan Miller for second.
"It's really special to be out there and do that. My teammates gave me the open looks, and I just made them," Gripp said. "We knew we were at a height disadvantage, so we just tried to run up and down the court."
Fetsko seemed to have the most fun of all, though. The son of 1994 Northeast Conference all-newcomer and all-tournament selection Denise Bence of St. Francis, Fetsko seems to have acquired his mother's knack for finding ways to get a good shot up in tight spaces. He was 9-for-15 from the field and also blocked two shots on the defensive end.
"I had such a great time this week at practices and with those guys [my teammates]. I made great friends this week. It was a great week," Fetsko said. "I came out here trying to make an impact, because there are some really good players. I came out, and they started falling early, and it was just a good game."
CENTRAL PA (121): Ambrisco 5-11 0-0 13, Beattie 6-11 0-0 15, Capitosti 7-9 0-0 15, Bannister 2-6 0-0 5, Lee 7-9 0-1 15, Flick 3-6 3-3 9, Taylor 3-4 0-0 6, Wright 0-1 1-4 1, Fetsko 9-15 1-2 19, Furman 4-7 2-3 11, Over 4-7 3-6 11, Snyder 0-1 1-2 1. Totals - 50-87 11-21 121.
BLAIR COUNTY (107): Gripp 10-15 1-2 24, Salyards 2-5 1-2 5, Rickens 3-8 0-0 7, Cerully 3-9 3-4 9, Span 8-10 4-5 21, Fulare 2-6 2-2 7, Cunningham 1-5 0-0 2, Slagenweit 2-4 0-0 4, Lamont 1-5 1-1 3, Berardinelli 1-3 0-0 3, Miller 3-11 0-0 7, Acrie 6-12 3-4 15. Totals - 42-93 15-20 107.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Central PA34 27 28 32-121
Blair County23 33 25 26-107
3-point goals: Central PA 10-26 (Lee 1-3, Beattie 3-7, Ambrisco 3-5, Capitosti 1-2, Bannister 1-3, Flick 0-2, Taylor 0-1, Furman 1-1, Over 0-1, Snyder 0-1), Blair County 8-28 (Gripp 3-7, Salyards 0-2, Rickens 1-3, Cerully 0-1, Span 1-1, Fulare 1-3, Slagenweit 0-1, Lamont 0-3, Berardinelli 1-1, Miller 1-5, Acrie 0-1). Rebounds: Central PA 36 (Lee 9), Blair County 46 (Salyards, Span 9 each). Assists: Central PA 15 (Ambrisco 5), Blair County 17 (Berardinelli 4). Totals fouls: Central PA 14, Blair County 12. Technical fouls: none.
Officials: Clark Adelman, Jack McDougal, Rick Gergely.