WARREN - Cardinal Mooney, the reigning Division II northeast district champs, held Canfield scoreless for almost 9 minutes in the first and second quarters, which allowed Mooney to go on an impressive 16-0 run.
That was one of the big reasons Mooney came out on top in Thursday night's district final at Warren G. Harding High School, defeating Canfield, 60-50.
"We were fortunate to get up on them early," Mooney coach Brian Danilov said. "(Canfield coach) Todd (Muckleroy) and his staff does a great job. They have great kids so we knew that we had to come out and really execute and play defense because we knew that they weren't going to quit."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Cardinal Mooney’s Mark Handel (22) drives to the basket as Canfield’s Brady Clark defends during third-quarter action on Thursday night. Mooney won, 60-50, and will now face Poland in a Division II?district final on Saturday night.
The game plan for Mooney (15-8) was simple - keep the ball out of Andrew Midgley and Jarret Vrabel's hands as much as possible.
Neither of those players scored their first points until the second half. Midgley was scoreless until the 7:02 mark in the third quarter and Vrabel earned the first points of the fourth quarter.
Danilov was proud of the defensive effort his kids put forth.
"We were very concerned about Vrabel," Danilov said. "He does such a great job rebounding. So we were just always trying to locate him and always have a body on him. Midgley also rebounds well. They rebound well as a team. We just had to make sure that we were finding bodies and boxing out."
Going into the second half, Mooney outrebounded Canfield 20-12 and captured the lead, 25-10. Canfield (19-5) only scored three points in the first quarter.
"I think that Mooney was asserting their physical nature right away," Muckleroy said. "I think that is was put us in that hole. They were getting the rebounds. They were getting the second, third and fourth chance opportunities at the basket. You can't expect to be even or down by a little bit when you can't do those little things right. They were the better team tonight."
Senior guard Joe Cunningham led Mooney, hitting five shots from the field - including two 3s and three foul shots for 15 points. Andrew Armstrong followed him with 14 points and nine rebounds. As a team, Mooney pulled down 34 rebounds, committed 14 turnovers, captured 12 steals, dished out nine assists and blocked three shots.
Cunningham believed in his team and knew that by sticking to the mindset the coaches instilled into them, that they would be successful.
"We had to come out and play strong because we knew that both of these next two games were not going to be easy," Cunningham said. "They are the No. 2 seed for a reason but we weren't going to back down from anybody. Our game plan was to run the floor, box out, rebound and just be more physical than they were. We controlled the tempo pretty well."
Armstrong realized that in order to have a chance to retain their title that they had to contain Midgley and Vrabel.
"We had a lot of confidence coming into this game since we are the reigning district champs," Armstrong said. "We knew that Jarret Vrabel and Andrew Midgley are tough guys and they like to go for loose balls and just play hard so we had to shut them down. I think we played a good game."
Muckleroy knew what to expect of Mooney and prepared for the zone traps that were thrown at them. He just was not expecting for Vrabel and Midgley to get covered as well as they were.
"I knew that they were going to bring a 1-3-1," Muckleroy said. "I feel comfortable in my team that we play pretty well against a zone trap but, for some odd reason, we just couldn't get the ball to spots. We weren't handling their traps very well. We just couldn't seem to get the ball past them. We look for those guys to score quite a bit for us. Any given night, we could have any combination of kids that are scoring for us, but in a game like this where their bigs are pretty assertive, our bigs have to score."
Cole Pryjma and Brady Clark both had 11 points each. Midgley scored 10 and grabbed six rebounds..
Mooney continues on to challenge Poland Saturday at 7 p.m. at Warren G. Harding.