By ROB HAMILTON
Cardington was able to claim their first playoff win in boys’ basketball since 2010 at the expense of Mount Gilead on Friday, but it wasn’t easy.
In their home postseason Division III sectional contest, the Pirates bounced back from a 14-8 first quarter deficit to fight back for a 60-51 win in a game played in front of a large and loud crowd that reminded Cardington coach Rod Brown of his days of playing for the Pirates.
“I told the boys when we got here that this looks like it did when I played,” he said. “There was great atmosphere tonight.”
Mount Gilead coach Tom Cooper figured the night would be a great one for Morrow County basketball.
“I knew it’d be exciting for Morrow County,” he said. “I thought Cardington fans did nice and that the ones we had also did. I’m just disappointed we didn’t have a few more.”
More disappointing for the Indian coach was an injury suffered by freshman guard Ryan Hosack early in the third quarter with his team leading 29-25. In attempting to draw a change from Cardington’s Cole Hess, Hosack not only was called for the foul, but also hit his head on the floor and wound up leaving the game with a concussion. Hess made both foul shots to bring the Pirates within two points and the Indians struggled the rest of the way without their starting point guard.
“The changing point in the game no doubt was Hosack getting hurt,” he said. “He changes us because he’s so hard to trap. You hate to see a kid get hurt in that situation — he was starting to get comfortable in a varsity role.”
A pair of baskets by Chris Godfrey helped the Indians maintain a 33-29 lead with just under two minutes to play in the third, but the Pirates roared back down the stretch. Tyler Dornon hit two baskets to tie the game and, after Alijah Keen scored to put the Indians back on top, Devin Pearl drained a three-pointer to give Cardington their first lead of the night at 36-35. Xavier Harris hit one-of-two free throws to tie the game with under a minute to play, but the Pirates would get a huge lift going into the fourth quarter when Mac Thompson’s last second shot from just inside half court scored to give Cardington a 39-36 advantage.
“We didn’t shoot well in the first half, but Mac hit a three-pointer at the end of the third and that picked us up,” said Brown.
The coach also felt that Hess really helped the team in the second half. While he finished with a team-high 20 points, it was also his work on defense Brown cited, as he was able to record a number of steals and deflections.
“I think he turned up the pressure and once he gets going, he’s a good shooter,” said the coach.
Thompson continued his hot hand with another three-pointer to open the fourth quarter. After Harris hit two free throws for the Indians, Cardington got a basket by Yake and five straight by Hess on a three-pointer and a transition basket after a steal to go up 49-38 with five minutes to play. While both Harris and Godfrey scored five points over the rest of the fourth, the Indians were unable to get closer than a 56-48 margin over the rest of the game. After a Godfrey three-pointer made it that score, Cardington responded with four free throws in seven tries to push the lead back to double digits before a late Harris three finished things at 60-51.
For Cooper, the first half of the game was far more fun than the second. With the score tied at six midway through the first quarter, the Indians got one free throw by Harris, followed by one by Godfrey to take an 8-6 lead. Harris and Isaiah Harris followed with buckets to make it a six-point advantage, which is how it stayed after Dornon and Godfrey traded baskets.
Mount Gilead was able to lead by as many as eight in the second quarter and still held a 22-15 advantage with two to go in the half thanks to four points by Xavier Harris and three from Godfrey.
Over those two minutes, Cardington fought back with two shots by Hess and a three-pointer by Pearl, but the Indians were able to close the half with the lead at 24-22 on a late putback by Godfrey. “We played really well most of the first half,” said Cooper. “We knew we had a substantial disadvantage inside.”
The Indians then opened the third quarter with a score off a steal by Godfrey and a three-pointer by Hosack to go in front by seven before a Hess three-pointer and the foul on Hosack leading to his injury brought Cardington within two.
While Godfrey scored 21 points for the Indians and Xavier Harris added 17, the Pirates held the rest of the team to 13 points.
“We knew Xavier and Chris would get their points,” said Brown. “They got second chance buckets. Being able to get pressure out on their guards gives us a chance to equal out their size. If we can get out and push the ball in transition, it makes us a lot better.”
Hess finished with 20 for the Pirates, while Thompson added 12, Dornon scored 11 and Yake finished with eight. Coming up next for Cardington will be a match-up at Pleasant on Wednesday. Early in the regular season, the Pirates lost by a 64-61 margin. Brown noted that the solution to getting over that hump is simple.
“Rebounding,” he said. “They doubled us up on rebounds. The nice thing about playing them is that they’re about the same size. It should be a good game.”
For Mount Gilead, Cooper is optimistic about the future. While he graduates seniors Michael Bland and Garrett Ullom, he returns everyone else — including all five of Friday night’s starters.
“We had a lot of growing pains this year, but there’s no team around as young as we are,” he said. “We have to work hard, but the future is bright.”
Rob Hamilton may be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 204.