A big run to end the first quarter staked the Mount Gilead boys to a lead they would relinquish on Friday, as the Indians topped Cardington 66-51.
Midway through the quarter, MG held a slim one-point lead after a bucket by Cardington’s A.J. Brehm made it a 9-8 game. However, the Indians would score nine straight to end the period on top by 10. Matthew Bland opened the run with a three-pointer. Cameron Vickers and Quade Harris added baskets and Aaron Gannon contributed a pair of free throws to stake their team to that lead.
Head coach Dan Strasser felt this team’s offense came off its defense, as the Indians were quite proficient at blocking shots and deflecting passes in the game.
“Our defense has come a long way,” he said. “We’ve been working really hard on it. Everything’s got to be through our defense. Our defense is everything. It’s our catalyst for our offense. Guys are seeming to buy in. They’re getting active with their hands.”
Strasser added that Gannon made things tough for Cardington in attempting to score inside.
“He’s a long, lanky guy,” he said. “It’s definitely an advantage for us that we wanted to exploit.”
Pirate coach Jason Rice agreed that Mount Gilead’s length made it tough for his team to get going on offense.
“I thought that their length kind of caused some problems for us,” he said. “We have to throw it over the top instead of just bouncing it.”
Cardington attempted to chip away at the MG lead throughout the rest of the game, but the Indians were able to answer with runs of their own. Trailing 25-15 late in the second quarter, the Pirates got back-to-back baskets by A.J. Hall and Kalin Briggs to cut their deficit to six points going into the half.
However, Mount Gilead would get out to a fast start in the third quarter, getting seven quick points by Bland and three from Gannon to open up a 35-19 lead. The Pirates would rally, though, as Brehm tallied five points, Briggs hit a three and Hall hit a pair of free throws to bring the margin back to six points at 35-29.
“We were battling back, which I was happy about,” said Rice. “That’s something we haven’t done in the last few games in this losing streak.”
However, the coach added that his team can’t let their opponents to put them in large holes in the early going.
“We preached all week that you can’t get down early,” he said. “Getting down early, once you come back, you lose a lot of your energy. Mount Gilead would call time out and then hit us in the mouth again and we’d rebound and they’d call time out again.”
Mount Gilead would increase their lead back up to 11 at 47-36 early in the fourth quarter, but the Pirates rallied behind three points from Journey Williamson and two each by Gavin Crockett and Briggs to get within a 47-43 count with five minutes remaining in regulation.
They wouldn’t be able to get any closer, though, as Mount Gilead’s seniors carried them to the win. Kennon scored seven points to help them build a 57-49 lead with 1:32 to go and, after a basket by Williamson, the team got five from Gannon and two each by Bland and Gannon in finishing on a 9-0 run.
“We played them young for a reason,” said Strasser of his seniors. “Hoping that it would pay off in moments like this. It’s Cardington-Mount Gilead. We knew it’d be a battle. We knew they weren’t going to go away. They’re a scrappy team and it’s a good thing we had the seniors to make some of those big shots.”
Rice simply felt that the Indians got of the gates more quickly than his team.
“I thought the atmosphere was really good,” he said. “Quite a few of the games we’ve been at, there’s been good crowds with high energy. It almost seemed like our kids were a little shell-shocked at the beginning and I think some of that is just looking around and not playing. I thought Mount Gilead came in with the seniors they have and hit us in the mouth early.”
Briggs led Cardington with 14 points. Williamson, Brehm and Crockett all had nine, while Hall contributed eight. Both Bland and Gannon had 22 for MG, while Kennon added 17. Bland hit four three-pointers in the game.
Strasser simply was happy that his players were able to pick up a win in their first game of the season against their rivals.
“I just told the guys that’s why you put the work in,” he said. “That’s why you do all the things nobody wants to do sometimes. Because you want to enjoy moments like this and it’s good to get the first one, but we’re focused on the next one after tonight.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS