In an game that was a delight for fans of fast-paced, high-octane offense, Cardington survived at Mount Gilead to take an 82-80 win on a jump shot by Cody Long with 2.9 seconds remaining.
Until the end, neither team could take control of the game, which featured 17 lead changes and two ties, including one on a Mason Mollohan put-back for the Indians with 22 seconds to go which knotted the score at 80. MG had one chance to win the game, but a last-second three-point attempt fell just short.
“That was a good one,” said Cardington coach Rod Brown. “It should always be that way. It came down to the wire. Devin (Pearl) has been our most consistent player and we were trying to go for him that last play, but he got the ball to Cody, who got a huge shot. This is a tough place to win — it was a lot of fun.”
Indian coach Tom Cooper agreed that it was a great game to be a part of, but just wished the outcome was different.
“That was a classic,” he said. “It stinks when you come up on the short end, but this was a special night of basketball. It was one of those nights where Cardington’s kids played their hearts out and our kids did everything they could. Morrow County got a special treat, but unfortunately, the wrong team got the short end of the stick.”
The Pirates hit 13 three-pointers in the game, getting four of those in the first quarter to take an early 18-17 lead. Garrett Wagner, who finished with 17 points, connected on three of those shots, while both Zack Hosack (seven points) and Mollohan (six) kept the Indians close.
While the teams played at an intense pace throughout the 32 minutes, Brown had no problems with that fast tempo.
“I like that tempo,” he said. “We play best at that pace. We’re struggling right now getting stops on defense, so we have five days to work on it before we play Centerburg on Friday.”
MG battled back to take a 26-20 lead early in the second quarter, but the Pirates went on an 11-0 run to take the lead, which they maintained into the half at 42-35. Four points by Long fueled that run and the junior then connected twice from three-point range to keep his team in the lead entering the break.
“I’ve never coached in a game where a team shot that well beyond the arc,” said Cooper. “Most of them, we had a hand in their face. I thought we played solid defense; they just lit it up. When a team is shooting from the three like that, you can’t ‘X’ and ‘O’ your way out of that. The thought that went through my head was, ‘How are we still in this game?’”
The Indians would gradually snip away at that lead throughout the third until they regained the advantage at 56-55 on an Austin Vanderkooi three. A Pearl three for Cardington gave them the lead back, but MG got two free throws by Hosack and a three from Seth Young put them up 61-58. They would still hold a one-point lead at 65-64 entering the fourth quarter.
From there, the two teams would continue jockeying for the advantage. Early in the period, Cardington went in front by four points at 73-69 behind four points by Skyler Bowling and another Pearl three, but the Indians fought back to take a 74-73 lead, as Mollohan tallied four points. Cooper noted that both Mollohan and Vanderkooi gave his team huge games in the post.
“All our kids played their hearts out, but Mason Mollohan and Austin Vanderkooi were just spectacular,” said the coach. “They gave it everything they could. Mason was a beast on the boards and Austin was good inside in their zone.”
However, the Pirates would be strong enough down the stretch to regain the lead and barely hold on for a crucial Blue Division win that keeps them in a tie for the lead with Northmor and Centerburg at 8-3 in league play. Before his game-winner, Long hit a pair of shots in the fourth quarter and Pearl contributed three points from the foul line to keep Cardington in position to grab the win.
“We been talking about controlling our destiny,” said Brown. “If we win out, we get at least a share. We have to play like each game’s our last.”
Pearl had a huge game for the Pirates, hitting five three-pointers and scoring a game-high 29 points. Long finished with 19 points, connecting three times from beyond the arc, while Wagner had a total of four threes to go with his 17. Derek Goodman added 11.
For Mount Gilead, Mollohan scored 22, Vanderkooi had 21, Hosack finished with 17 and Young scored nine points on three threes.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS