Last year, Cardington saw their basketball season end at home in sectionals to lower-seeded Patriot Prep. This year, as the fifth seed in Division IV, Pirate coach Rod Brown did not want a repeat of that incident and his team obliged, dominating 16th-seeded Madison Christian by a 70-30 count on Monday.
“One loss and it’s the end,” said Brown. “We don’t want that last loss on our home floor. Just like last year — one or two mistakes and you’re down and you lose.”
The Pirate defense made sure that wouldn’t happen. While it took a while to get things rolling offensively, Cardington held their opponents to five points in the first quarter. Cody Long broke an early 2-2 tie with a three-pointer and then, with the score 7-4 in favor of the Pirates, Derek Goodman tallied five straight points to help them take a 12-5 advantage after eight minutes.
“We got off to a slow start,” he said. “We’ve been guilty of that a few times. When they see the ball go in a few times, they play better.”
Luke McCarrell opened the second quarter with two free throws and Garrett Wagner followed by stealing the ball and driving for two more. Wagner would then add three three-pointers as the period progressed and Cardington was able to open up a 30-14 advantage.
Despite having a big lead, Brown was not willing to be complacent.
“I told them at halftime, they’re three shots away from being back in this thing,” he said. “We got some steals and were able to pick up our tempo.”
Almost everything would go right for the Pirates in the third. After the Eagles trimmed one point off Cardington’s lead, getting within a 33-18 count, early on, Cardington went on a 15-point run that effectively slammed the door on any comeback hopes.
Long scored seven straight points to start the run before Devin Pearl hit a basket and both Goodman and Pearl drained three-pointers to make the score 48-18. Pearl, who tallied 12 points in the third, felt his team was clicking on all cylinders at this stage of the game.
“It was great,” he said. “When you get to moving and shots are falling, it’s great. We had to step up.”
Cardington would add to their lead over the remaining minutes of the game, finishing on top by 40 points in a strong team effort. Wagner hit five three-pointers in finishing with 17 points, while Pearl added 16, Long tallied 13 and added three long-range shots and Goodman finished with 11.
Brown noted that the key right now is maintaining focus — something that’s a bit easier considering that his team had to go on a long winning streak in league games in order to finish tied for Northmor for the Blue Division crown.
“That’s what we talked about,” he said. “Every time in the second half of the year, we played with something on the line. If you don’t play to your ability, anyone can beat you.”
The Pirate coach has had a lot to celebrate this year, including Pearl reaching the 1000-point mark late in the regular season at Elgin, making him the sixth player in school history to hit that milestone.
“He’s leading us in almost every stat category and is in the top five in the league in most,” he said. “He has 3.5 assists per game this year, which is pretty good for a guy we used to just throw the ball to for him to shoot.”
Brown noted that becoming a 1000-point player didn’t happen overnight. As a freshman, he only scored a little over 20 points, with most of that number coming in a playoff contest with Pleasant. While he had a bigger role as a sophomore, it took a while to grow into the role the coaching staff envisioned for him.
“He had to mature a little bit,” said Brown. “His sophomore year, I expected a lot out of him, but it took half the season to get there. The thing is, he believes he can do it, his family believes and everyone in this building does. He’s a great kid.”
For Pearl, reaching the milestone was a big thing, as he’d been thinking about it all year.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “I’m the sixth person from Cardington to do it. I thought about it all this season.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS