By Greg Gulas
The third annual Lariccia’s “See Them Rise” high school basketball showcase is set for January 25-26 with three games scheduled each day at the Covelli Centre.
Teams from both northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania will take part with a Special Olympics preview Saturday at 3:15 p.m. between the Mahoning County Indians and Mahoning Public Warriors.
“The staff at the Covelli Centre and [Inter Tri-County League] commissioner Paul Andraso are to be commended for the time and effort that they have put forth in order to make this a memorable event for all participating teams,” tournament director Mark Metzka said. “This year’s event shapes up to be bigger and even better than last year as we have changed the date to a no-football weekend and focused on local talent. The two-day, six-game format should attract not only fans of participating schools, but all area basketball fans as well.”
A girls contest between Struthers and Hickory will get the action underway Saturday, followed by two boys’ games to round out first-night action.
The Wildcats (8-3) feature five senior starters with McKenna Shives (14.0) and Ashleigh Ryan (13.0) double-digit scorers, Brittaney Zupko (10.3) the lone double-digit rebounder and Halle Smrek and Ashley Kane rounding out the Struthers starting lineup.
“Hickory is an excellent team and we’re looking forward to playing a program from across the state line with a top-notch reputation,” Wildcats coach John Grandy said. “We feel we’re a good program, ready for the challenge and proud to be a part of this years’ showcase.”
The other two games will pit Girard against Warren (2-7) and Canfield (7-2) vs. West Middlesex (5-4).
Girard (8-2) has won seven straight and features leading scorer Dylan O’Hara (19.5 points) and cousins Evan and Jim Standohar.
Evan averages a double-double (12.2 points and 10.1 rebounds) while Jim’s (10.3 points) resume includes six assists per game.
“For us, we’re just excited to be playing a good team in JFK. We don’t have a lot of height but we play hard and get after it all four quarters,” Indians coach Craig Hannon said. “It’s a showcase game on a neutral court in a top-notch facility. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”
Canfield’s Jarret Vrabel (13.8 points, 8.0 rebounds), 3-point artist Andrew Midgley (15.0 points, 7.4 rebounds) and Cole Pryjma (4.5 assists) are players to watch while the Big Reds, who defeated LaBrae in last year’s showcase, boast two players in Trey Staunch (21.0 points, 11 rebounds) and Josh Porterfield (14.0 points, 14.0 rebounds) averaging double-doubles.
“We’re a veteran team with a great group of seniors. We were looking for a little variety in our non-conference schedule so playing a team with a solid program like West Middlesex will be a good test for both clubs,” Cardinals coach Todd Muckleroy noted.
West Middlesex coach Chad Mild agreed.
“This is our second straight year in the showcase and Canfield shapes up to be an excellent opponent. I love the atmosphere, our kids like the challenge of a bigger court and it will surely feel like a playoff atmosphere,” Mild said.
The tournament concludes on Sunday with three boys contests. Struthers will meet East in the opening game at noon.
The Wildcats (2-6) rely on Rayquan Phiefer (17.2 points) and Austin Yemma (10.0 points, 5.2 rebounds) with the latter knocking down just over 40 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“This is always a great event for our players. They enjoy the environment and competition while the facility is absolutely first class,” Struthers coach Joe Savko said.
Dennis Simmons’ Panthers (1-7) have struggled at the outset with two seniors, Terrell McClain (18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds) and Anthony Reid (15.5 points) just returning to the lineup after nursing injuries which sidelined them for the first five games.
“It’s always a thrill when you get the opportunity to showcase your team on a different and exciting stage,” Simmons stated.
Mineral Ridge (5-4) will then meet Crestview (4-5) while Bristol (10-1), which went 24-1 and advanced to district semifinals a season ago, faces Neshannock (10-2).
The Rams, who defeated Crestview twice last season as members of the ITCL’s upper tier, will meet the Rebels for the first time this season after moving to the league’s second tier this year.
“This is a tremendous event for our players. The biggest thing is that it gives them an opportunity to play before a lot of people in a big time atmosphere,” Mineral Ridge coach Chris Kohl stated. “It’s a good test for both clubs.”
The Rams feature seniors Corey Phillips (14.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists), Zac Hagy (19.0 points, 6.1 rebounds) and Ryan Nutter (8.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.1 blocks), a 6-foot-8 center.
Bristol, 45-11 under coach Craig Giesy during his three years, look to guards Brandon Lee (19.2 points, 5.0 steals, 2.7 assists) and Johnny Simcox (10.7 points, 4.4 assists) for court leadership.
“Neshannock is a very good team and one of the best that we will face this season. It’s a game that will surely have a tourney mode,” Giesy stated. “It’s our first time in the showcase and we’ll see how our kids respond on a neutral floor. We’ll definitely learn a lot from this game.”
Lancers coach John Corey relies on a trio of guards in Matt McKinney (18.8 points), Ernie Burkes (15.8 points) and Ethan Moose (11.7 points).
“We are very excited to be participating in the third annual ‘See Them Rise’ tournament,” Corey said. “Being a native of the Youngstown area and knowing how much Mr. Larricia’s philanthropy has helped so many young people in the Valley makes this an even greater honor. We are off to a great start this season and we are hoping to achieve many more of our team goals throughout the second half of the season.”
Covelli Centre director Eric Ryan called the showcase a staple event that is growing.
“We have been fortunate enough to host the showcase for several years and having been a part of the committee, I can say that I am proud of its growth from both a personal and professional standpoint,” he said. “The Covelli Centre gets to hold some pretty amazing events and this is undoubtedly one of our favorite staples.”
The Vindicator will also present a deserving athlete the annual John Kovach Award during the weekend showcase, named after the longtime sports journalist for the paper who was a founding member of the high school basketball series.
Also, former Warren JFK and YSU standout Bruce Timko will be presented the second annual Mahoning Valley high school basketball excellence award. Last year’s honoree, Rex Leach, will make the presentation.
Presale tickets are $4 for students and $6 for adults and are available at participating schools while tickets at the door are $8. Parking is free.