Cardington rode a dominating first-half performance against host Highland to a 66-33 win over the Scots on Tuesday.
The Pirates scored 21 points in the first quarter and added another 25 in the second, as they jumped out to a 46-12 lead in a game they never trailed in.
“We came out aggressive and the kids played really well together,” said Cardington coach Nick Withrow. “It’s not just one player, but the whole team. If we keep doing that, we’ll be tough to play.”
Jordan Bellamy scored five points for Highland in the first quarter and Bryant Marcum added two more, but the Pirates connected on three three-pointers and were a perfect 8-of-8 from the foul line. Six points by Josh Shook, five from Danny Vaught and four each from Avery Harper and Trey Brininger staked Cardington to a 14-point lead after eight minutes of action.
“We expected that,” said Highland coach Chris Powell of a tough Pirate defense that forced a number of turnovers, keeping his team’s offense from running smoothly. “We knew they’d come out and pressure us and worked on that in practice, but it’s a different story when you get on the court. They ran the ball really well and put us in a tough spot.”
Withrow noted that tough defense is something his team should be able to do well with consistency, citing quality depth and athleticism.
“That’s kind of our thing to be aggressive on defense and get hands in their passing lanes,” he said. “One of our big things is that we’re eight deep and we want to run. It doesn’t matter who gets the ball, we want to push it.”
The coach added that he has a lot of confidence in each of those top eight players to contribute in multiple facets of the game.
“The best thing about this year is that we have eight kids who could start for anyone,” he said. “In our first three games, we had three different leading scorers.”
In the second quarter, the Pirates did a lot of scoring. Leading 23-9, the team put up 15 straight points, with Harper scoring four. Branton Howard connected for three to make the score 38-12, but Cardington finished the half on a hot streak. Cayman Spires tallied a bucket and a pair of free throws, while Brininger and Vaught added two each to send their team to the half with a 34-point lead.
Powell felt his squad simply was unable to make plays, while the Pirates were.
“I think those are effort plays and we just didn’t have many in the first half,” he said. “I think they hit a couple shots early and then their defense took away a little of our confidence. “We had better energy and ability to compete in the second half.”
The teams played evenly in the second half, with Cardington taking a 12-11 advantage in the third period and Highland outscoring their guests 10-8 in the fourth.
With his team heavily hit by graduation after claiming a league title last year, Powell said he’s still waiting for players to step up and fill the leadership void created by those losses, noting that some of the stuff they’ve shown in practices and scrimmages haven’t translated to the actual games yet.
“In the last two games, we haven’t put that into play yet,” he said. “The mark of a good team is how to respond when you’re punched in the mouth.”
Bellamy tallied nine points to lead the Scots. For Cardington, Vaught led all scorers with 16 points, while Brininger scored 12 and Harper added 11.
With a 3-1 record, Cardington already has won as many games as they did all last year. Withrow felt the team’s progress was slowed last year, as he was a late coaching hire and it took a while for everyone to be on the same page — something that hasn’t been a problem this year.
“That goes a long way,” he said. “Last year, we were going into January and kids still didn’t fully know the system. They’re starting to realize what it takes and are buying in.”