Figueroa, Fritz named to all-state boys basketball team
Rene Figueroa, Panther Valley
Tyler Fritz, Marian
For the second straight season, Panther Valley’s Rene Figueroa and Marian’s Tyler Fritz have been voted among the best basketball players in the state — and it’s easy to see why.
Figueroa was named to The Pennsylvania Sports Writers All-State Basketball Class 3A second team, while Fritz was named to the Class 2A second team. The teams were announced on Tuesday.
Figueroa, a senior, was the 2018-19 Times News Basketball Player of the Year, while Fritz, a junior, was the 2017-18 Times News Basketball Player of the Year.
The two have much more in common then awards and honors, however. They both led their teams in scoring and three-pointers, both surpassed the 1,000-career point mark during the course of the season, and both set single-game scoring records at their respective schools. But they also dazzled with their all-around ability, putting up huge rebounding, assist, and steal numbers.
According to their coaches, the success that Figueroa and Fritz enjoyed didn’t come by accident.
“Being recognized among the best in the state in back-to-back years is a testament to the hard work Rene has put in, and also his ability to overcome obstacles that were in his way,” Panther Valley coach Pat Crampsie said. “It’s such a great honor. Not just for Rene individually, but for our program and our school as well.”
Marian coach John Patton also praised Fritz’s work ethic.
“Tyler is an incredibly hard worker who deserves every honor he receives,” Patton said. “He has an outstanding knowledge of the game, and he’s a great teammate.
“It’s a pleasure to coach a player like Tyler, because you know he’s always going to give you everything he has, whether it’s at practice or during games. That type of work ethic and leadership filters down throughout the program because when kids see how hard the team’s best player works, it pushes everyone else to give that type of effort.”
Figueroa took his already versatile offensive game to another level this year as he averaged a staggering 24.7 points a game, hit 62 three-pointers and dished out a team-leading 3.3 assists. Despite standing just 5-7, he also led the Panthers in rebounding (6.6 rpg), and added 2.2 steals a game for good measure.
“Rene has come so far during his career,” said Crampsie. “The strides he has made both on and off the court since he was a 14-year-old starting point guard on the varsity to where he is now, has been incredible.
“He has put in the time to develop his skills. He was always a great ballhandler, but he really spent a lot of time becoming an outstanding perimeter shooter. But it wasn’t just his skills that he improved; he also improved in the intangible areas like leadership and his decision making on the court.”
Fritz also dominated statistically for the Colts. He averaged 20.2 points a game, drilled 48 three-pointers, and handed out 3.3 assists per game. He also pulled down 6.3 rebounds a game and averaged over a steal per contest.
“Tyler has now made the All-State team in two totally different ways,” Patton said. “People probably don’t understand how difficult that is. Last year, he was a scorer. He had some veteran players around him who could run the offense and control the boards, which allowed Tyler to concentrate more on finding ways put the ball in the basket — and he took advantage of that to have a lethal year offensively.
“This year, we were younger and a lot more inexperienced so Tyler had to change his game entirely. We needed him to handle the ball more, we needed him to rebound more, and we needed him to be better defensively — and he did all those things. His points per game might have dropped a little, but he took his all-around game to another level.”
Just win, baby
For all the individual success the two players have enjoyed, it was their contributions to the team and their positive impact on games that left their coaches most proud.
Figueroa has helped take a Panther Valley program to a level it hasn’t been to in decades.
The past two seasons, the Panthers have gone 16-10 and 15-8, winning a Schuylkill League Division 3 title, reaching a District 11 title game, and qualifying for the state playoffs. Last season’s state playoff appearance was the program’s first since 1990, and the back-to-back seasons of 15 or more victories hadn’t happened since the 1993 season.
No one played a bigger role in those accomplishments than Figueroa, who scored over 40 points in a game three times this year, including a PV single-game scoring record 47 points against Blue Mountain. He finishes his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,554 points.
“Rene’s numbers speak for themselves,” Cramspie said. “His scoring, his rebounding, his passing and his defense were all crucial to our success as a team. But his biggest contribution might have been the level of competitiveness he brought to our team and our entire program.
“Rene was never intimidated. He never backed down from a challenge and he also seemed to be at his best in the biggest games. He also was so enthusiastic on the court. You could see how much he loved playing the game, and I think the excitement he brought to the court made us a fun team to watch these last couple seasons.”
Marian qualified for the District 11 playoffs in each of Fritz’s three years as a starter, compiling a 45-26 overall record. The Colts won a Schuylkill League division title and a district title during his career. He currently has 1,260 career points, and his 45-point explosion against Minersville this past season set Marian’s single game scoring record.
“I have really enjoyed watching Tyler develop his game during his three years here,” Patton said. “He hasn’t just taken his game to a new level each year; he’s taken it up multiple levels. I’m proud of what he has accomplished in his career so far, and I’m really looking forward to see what lies ahead during his senior year.”