The Irish prevailed 67-59, but a heated ending marred the contest.
SALEM -- Those who saw the end of Friday night's boys Division III sectional final between Ursuline and Mooney witnessed the best and the worst of the rivalry.
An ending that was anything but friendly marred one of the most intense and competitive games ever in the series.
With 23 seconds remaining and the Irish leading 67-59, things got heated. As both teams scrambled to secure a loose ball near the Mooney bench, a melee broke out.
Ursuline's Terrill Vidale went down hard out of bounds and players from both teams began pushing and shoving. The officials and coaches from both squads attempted to separate the players, but the skirmish continued. No punches were thrown, but emotions were running high.
Officials stop contest
With the situation seemingly out of hand, the officials elected to end the game and awarded Ursuline the victory.
It was a less than ideal finish to a contest that came down to the final two minutes of play. Lost in the emotional ending was the physical, but clean, battle between two of the Valley's premier basketball programs.
"This is a huge rivalry and it's never been a 'shake hands' kind of rivalry," said Ursuline coach Keith Gunther. "I told our kids afterward, and I'm sure they will too, that these kinds of things can't take place. It was all in the heat of battle and sometimes that happens in basketball.
"Both teams played their hearts out and Mooney really did a great job in the second half. We were just able to play tough down the stretch and get out of here with a victory."
No hiding emotions
No matter how much both coaches tried to downplay the ending, there was no hiding their emotions after the game.
Mooney coach Scott Groves was proud of his kids' effort, but was visibly upset over what he thought was shaky judgment by the officials.
"I can't believe that for a tournament game that those officials could not control the game," he said. "They did nothing to control things and then at the end a loose ball turns into a melee. They couldn't get things under control, so they bailed themselves out by calling the game."
Prior to the fiasco at the end, emotions were already boiling over. Ursuline built a 19-point halftime lead and looked to be well on its way to a sectional championship.
But Mooney came roaring back in the third quarter, outscoring the Irish 29-7. The Cardinals connected on 6-of-9 3-pointers in the period to turn a 40-21 deficit to a 50-47 shortfall.
Cardinals within a point
The Cardinals got to within 60-59 with 1:39 remaining on two Jaron Howell free throws.
But Ursuline scored the final seven points, including two on a pair of Dave Simon free throws, to build the final cushion.
"I told the kids to be aggressive, whether that meant shooting 3's or driving to the basket," said Groves. "We played our hearts out in second half and had Ursuline on their heels. We came all the way back and almost pulled it out.
"I think Ursuline is a great team and Coach Gunther does a great job with his team. They have the potential to go very far in the tournament and I think we might have helped give them the push they need."
Ursuline advanced to Tuesday's district semifinal against Springfield at 8 p.m.
Rootstown 88, United 53
Rootstown had too much firepower for United, as the Rovers outscored the Golden Eagles 24-9 in the second quarter to grab all the momentum they needed in Friday's first game.
The co-champion of the Portage County League advanced to Tuesday's district semifinal against league rival Waterloo at 6 p.m.
The Rovers' explosive offensive attack was virtually unstoppable. Guards Cory Buso (21) and Brent Vair (10) combined for 31 points, while Kyle Stewart (12) and David Harris (10) dominated inside with 22 points.
United's Achilles heel was a miserable first half handling the ball. The Golden Eagles turned the ball over 13 times in the opening half -- the same amount of shots they attempted.
The Golden Eagles got as close as 41-28 with 5:41 left in the third period. But Rootstown ran its advantage back up to 59-40 to end the quarter and crushed any emotional momentum United had attained.