By Tom Williams
After two less-than-stellar seasons, you might think the Cardinal Mooney High boys basketball team would be satisfied with a 5-3 start.
“Honestly, I thought we would be better,” Cardinals senior Doug Caputo said after scoring 10 points and making six rebounds in Tuesday’s 52-36 victory over Austintown Fitch. “We’ve beaten the [better] teams on our schedule and lost to the not-as-good teams.”
How do you explain that?
“We’ve beaten the teams that would give us challenges,” Caputo said, “but in the games we went into thinking we were going to win, we didn’t.”
First-year Mooney head coach Brian Danilov says his team is a work-in-progress.
“Sometimes, you have to go through some adversity to get to the other side,” Danilov said. “I’m hoping we’re starting to handle all the [difficult] situations [with strength].”
Jessie Driver’s two 3-pointers in the first quarter propelled the Falcons (2-7) into an 11-11 tie. A strong second quarter put the Cardinals in control. Danny Martin scored five points as the Cardinals outscored the Falcons, 14-8, for a six-point halftime edge.
A free throw by Quincy Higgins and basket by Alex DiFrancesco sliced the Cardinals’ lead to three early in the third quarter.
Powered by two baskets by George Brandenstein and a trey by Martin, the Cardinals surged with an 11-1 run.
“We knew we had to stop their drives,” Danilov said. “We’re just trying to put together four strong quarters playing smart basketball.”
The Falcons finished with 11 baskets.
“Baskets have been hard to come by in the last seven games,” Fitch coach Brian Beany said. “Like I told the guys, it’s not like this is some big mystery, that we’re trying to solve the world energy crisis.”
Beany said the Falcons are executing well enough to get looks.
“It’s just a matter of putting the ball into the hoop,” Beany said. “Their effort, their hustle, their enthusiasm has been great, and that’s keeping us in games.
“The problem is, you’ve got to be able to put the ball in the basket,” Beany said. “We’ve just got to keep working at it.”
Driver led the Falcons with 10 points while DiFrancesco netted nine.
For mooney, Brandenstein scored nine points and Martin eight.
“We’ve got guys starting to step up, doing their role,” said Danilov, adding that this was Martin’s first full game since injuring a knee.
Caputo, the Cardinals’ only returning starter, credits Danilov for sparking better play.
“He’s made us into a totally different team,” Caputo said. “He’s boosted everyone’s intensity. It’s a lot more fun to play when you know you have a team behind you and you know you can get a win every [game].”
The game featured plenty of contact, with Caputo, DiFrancesco and Fitch’s Austin Hogan all fouling out.
“It hurts,” Caputo said of foul trouble, “because I love playing the game, every second that I can.”