By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AUSTINTOWN -- Gina Brunetti didn't win on a wing and a prayer, but she did say a prayer on the wing.
With less than 10 seconds remaining and the game tied at 43, Cardinal Mooney High senior Megan Maloney found a wide-open Brunetti on the left baseline about 12 feet from the basket.
The game -- and the season -- was in her hands.
"It felt pretty good when I released the ball," Brunetti said. "I was just praying it would go in."
Brunetti's first game-winning shot (in varsity, anyway) helped lift the Cardinals past third-seeded Rayen School, 45-43, in a Division II girls sectional final Thursday at Fitch High School.
"The kid's a shooter," Mooney coach Roy Nard said of Brunetti. "Maloney found her and she knocked it down."
Rayen sophomore Taniesha Holland missed a desperation 3-pointer before the buzzer as the Tigers watched another successful season end early in the tournament.
Failed to deliver
"We just didn't play," Rayen coach Holly Seimetz said. "We just didn't look like we were there. You work so hard to get a seed, and then you don't show up. I don't understand it."
Anastasia Vouvalis had 12 points and six rebounds for the Cardinals (15-7), who will play Salem in a district semifinal at 6 p.m. Thursday.
The Quakers beat Mooney earlier in the season, 47-26.
Aieshya Dixon added 11 points and 10 rebounds, Brunetti had 10 points and seven rebounds and Amber Bodrick scored 10 points.
"We played a lot of tough games this year and our schedule definitely helped us," Nard said. "Rayen is a good basketball team and they're very quick, but we felt we could handle the pressure."
Rayen bounces back
Mooney, which led most of the game, seemed to be in control after taking a 42-33 lead with 3:30 remaining. But Rayen went on a 10-1 run over the next two minutes to tie the score.
The Tigers (17-4) had a chance to take the game-winning shot, but turned the ball over on a held ball with 15 seconds to go, setting up Mooney's final possession.
Taniesha Holland had 21 points, seven rebounds and seven steals for Rayen and Ashley Adams added eight points.
Salem 46, Liberty 35
AUSTINTOWN -- Salem coach Steve Stewart walked into the Quakers' locker room during halftime with two things: a three-point lead and a head of steam.
"I was pretty angry," he said. "I felt like we didn't have any focus and weren't ready to play."
The second-seeded Quakers eventually pulled together and pulled away, outscoring the Leopards 18-6 in the fourth quarter.
"I wasn't worried about the game," Stewart said.
"I had confidence that the girls would rise to the occasion when it mattered."
Alyson Cotter scored 15 points and nine rebounds and Sarah Hamilton added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Quakers (18-3).
Liberty senior Jessica White capped her outstanding career with 11 points and five steals for the Leopards (13-8).
"I thought we were outmatched physically, but our quickness kept us in the ball game," Liberty coach John Hritz said. "We played our hearts out and I couldn't be happier."
Senior Brittny Humphrey added 12 points and seven rebounds for Liberty.