Cardington got a big boost as the postseason basketball tournament grows near, as the Pirates were able to claim a 76-62 home win over arch-rival Mount Gilead Friday night.
The Pirates jumped out to a nine-point lead late in the first quarter and were able to maintain an advantage throughout the contest in picking up the win and avenging an earlier loss to MG.
“We’ve been close to turning the corner all year,” said Cardington head coach Nick Withrow. “We made some tweaks and told them to go out and have fun. All the credit goes to these kids. It finally was a team effort and it showed.”
Four points from Nick Dyer helped the Indians take an 8-7 advantage three minutes into the contest, but Cardington would take the lead for good with a 11-2 run.
Danny Vaught, Cayman Spires and Dylan Goodman all connected from the field, with Spires’ shot coming from three-point range, to make it 14-8 in favor of the Pirates. After the Indians got a successful shot from Mason Mollohan to get within four, Spires hit again from long range and Trey Brininger recorded two points off a steal.
Trailing 19-10, the Indians got three straight points, but gave up a basket to Vaught to still be eight points behind their hosts after eight minutes of action.
“Their guards played well and knocked down shots,” said Mount Gilead coach Dan Strasser. “They had more runs than we did. They had wide open shots. Our transition defense was horrible. It was a lack of communication. Any time we’d get hot, they’d make a couple shots and all the work we’d done would go away.”
That was on display in the second quarter. Trailing 27-17, the team got a steal and score from Jackson Huffer, followed by baskets by Brandon Stevens and Dyer, to close within a four-point margin with 4:54 left in the half. Two minutes later, Cardington’s lead was 13, as Jarred Wardlaw scored five quick points and Spires added four.
Wardlaw would add two more three-pointers before the end of the half, as Cardington went into the locker room up by a 42-31 margin.
“I told them before the game to stop thinking,” said Withrow. “You’ve been taught and know what to do, so do it. Danny is a playmaker, Jarred is a scorer and Cayman is a scorer. All of them went out and put everything on the line. They were put in a tough spot with me coming in late. They want to get better and it’s coming to fruition.”
Baskets by Vaught and Brininger and two free throws, also by Vaught, boosted the Pirate lead to a 48-31 margin early in the third quarter. Mount Gilead was able to get five points from Huffer in closing within a 52-42 margin late in the third.
They would continue to get closer in the early stages of the fourth, getting four points from Mollohan in making it a 58-51 game with over five minutes remaining. Cardington would close the game strongly, though. A three-pointer by Spires made it a 10-point game again and the team would increase their advantage to as much as a 16-point margin before finishing on top by 14.
Strasser noted that he had to go to a small line-up for much of the game simply because Cardington’s aggression and speed was giving his team match-up troubles.
“They definitely caused some match-up problems,” he said. “We had a hard time having two bigs on the floor. I told the guys they’re hungry. You can throw out the record books out with a rivalry. They came to play tonight.”
Vaught led Cardington with 20 points. Both Wardlaw (19 points) and Spires (15) had three three-pointers on the night and Brinkinger added 11 points. MG was led by Mollohan’s 18 points, while Huffer scored 15 and Liam Dennis had eight.
With one game remaining before the tournament begins, Withrow is hoping that Friday’s win provides the sort of positive momentum that last year’s 14th-seeded squad used to open its postseason by upending third-seeded Berne Union.
“We’re going to face a good opponent (Ridgedale),” he said. “We put ourselves in a tough spot, but all the kids need to worry about is playing their game. I have confidence in these kids. I feel we can surprise some teams.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS