UConn-bound Irwin turns in stellar showing

CRESSON – Thirty players that have been part of the Altoona Mirror Basketball Classic have gone on to play for Division I colleges.

The event, though, has never attracted a player headed to quite such an elite level as State College’s Kyla Irwin.

As a junior, Irwin committed to Geno Auriemma’s UConn women, perhaps as dominating a college sports program as has ever existed.

Despite a number of all-star games vying for her services, Irwin decided to stay close to home and play in the Mirror Classic on Friday night at Mount Aloysius College. She ended setting records for the girls half of the doubleheader with 27 points, 17 rebounds and six blocked shots.

“I just wanted to get to play around State College one more time,” said Irwin, a Class AAAA first-team all-state selection last year who averaged 26.5 points per game for the District 6 champion Lady Lions as a senior. “Everyone in State College has always played in this. So I just wanted to carry that history. It’s not always about those big games.”

Irwin was nominated for the McDonald’s All-American Game. She also was asked to play in two Pennsylvania vs. Maryland games and will take part in one of those in Harrisburg on April 9.

Players going to Division I colleges only are permitted to play in two postseason all-star games, according to Irwin.

Twice as nice

The Blair County teams always are at something of a disadvantage because of how many schools from which the Central PA team can draw. Blair is able to offset that somewhat in familiarity – its teams by necessity always have multiple players from the same high school team.

That was a bit negated in the boys game this year as, for the first time, had three teams represented by two players apiece: Homer-Center, Somerset and West Branch.

“It helps me. It helps the other guys, too. I feel the chemistry between all of us is better,” Homer-Center’s John Capitosti said.

West Branch – headed by Danny Clark – also provided the Central PA coaching staff.

“Those teams were very successful in the regular season. Homer-Center was 28-1. Somerset lost to Hollidaysburg (in the District 6 Class AAA championship game). We made it to states,” Clark said. “From the team aspect, the winning is there. The competitiveness is the best I’ve ever been around.”

Going out in style

Tyrone Area girls star Finnley Christine missed the end of her senior season when she tore her ACL with two weeks left in the campaign.

She had surgery and seems to be well ahead of schedule, and she actually got to enter Friday’s game and made a pair of free throws as part of an arrangement between the coaching staffs.

It was a nod to Christine’s leadership during the week. She came to both Blair County girls practices and stayed the whole way through, trying to help her teammates and Blair coach Rob Mock.

“They still offered me a chance to be on the team after I tore my ACL. Being around a bunch of new girls was really awesome,” Christine said.

After being cleared to play, Christine will resume her playing career at Penn State Altoona. After that, she wants to get into coaching, something this week might have helped to prepare her for.

“In the near future, I would like to coach somewhere,” Christine said. “When I get through school.”

Staying together

District 5 might only have about one-third of the schools in District 6, but the Central PA girls team was heavily influenced by the region’s southern schools. Five District 5 players helped make up the Central PA team, and Everett’s Keith Moyer and Kali Byers coached them.

It was a big year for District 5 girls basketball, with North Star making it all the way to the PIAA Class AA championship game. Only one District 5 team – the 1991 McConnellsburg girls – has won a state girls hoops title.

“Every team was congratulating us and wishing us luck and supporting us,” North Star point guard Courtney Schrock said. “It was really nice.”

Schrock actually played with three of her Central PA teammates in last week’s District 5 All-Star Game, including fellow 5-foot-4 guards Emma Spinelli from Shade and Maddie Sprankle from Johnstown Christian.

“We work well together because we play styles similar to each other,” Schrock said.

Windber’s Kaitlyn Weaver also was on Schrock’s team for the District 5 event, while Everett’s Kadie Morral was on the East team that opposed them.

In the family

Capitosti joined a pretty exclusive club by playing in Friday’s nightcap. His brother, Joe, played for the Central PA team in 2014.

“He thought it was awesome,” John Capitosti said. “It’s a great honor (to be selected to play).”

Alley OOPS

Because of scheduling conflicts that kept him from having a full contingent of players in the preparation for the game, Clark had to assume an active playing role in the Central PA boys squad’s two practices.

At one point on Monday, Clark pushed the ball on the break and saw Jake Heiple of Somerset lurking on the baseline. Clark tossed a lob to Heiple, intending for a dunk.

One problem: Heiple is one of the few Central PA players who doesn’t get above the rim.

“That’s not me,” Heiple said as he watched the ball sail out of bounds.

Crowded house

Attendance for the doubleheader at the Mount Aloysius College Athletic Convocation and Wellness Center was estimated at 1,250.