By Greg Gulas
Players tend to run a little faster, jump a little higher and compete a little harder when it’s a rivalry game.
The Ursuline Fighting Irish have treated their last five opponents like their arch-rivals. On Friday night, they actually met their arch-rival.
Desmond McElroy came off the bench to score a game-high 17 points while Preston Williams added 13 as Ursuline stopped Cardinal Mooney, 57-45, at Cardinals Gymnasium.
Ursuline (5-6) started the season with six consecutive losses, but has roared back to win five in a row. All but one of the wins has been on the road.
“I never believed that we were an 0-6-type team,” Ursuline coach Keith Gunther said. “Since we inserted Khallid Pierce in the starting lineup we haven’t lost. He plays with great intensity but more importantly, he doesn’t let those around him relax or he gets on them.
“Our players are beginning to understand their roles. They are passing better, there are more assists and more importantly we’re hitting the offensive glass. That was the key for us tonight.”
Kevin Jackson’s four points helped the Fighting Irish open a 9-4 lead after the first eight minutes of play.
Eight points each by both McElroy and Williams ignited the Fighting Irish to a 23-point second quarter as they opened a 32-16 halftime advantage.
“This was a typical Cardinal Mooney-Ursuline game with both teams playing extra hard. The gym was packed and you could barely hear each other on the court,” McElroy said. “We built a nice lead at halftime, but then Cardinal Mooney fought back to tie the game. Coach Gunther told us to just stay calm and keep playing hard and that’s what we did.”
For Williams, the crowd just seemed to energize everyone.
“Both teams got their energy from the crowd tonight. Defense was the key in the second half because we knew we had to bear down, especially after they tied the game at the outset of the fourth quarter,” Williams said.
Eight points by Doug Caputo after intermission keyed a 22-8 run by the Cardinals, which enabled Cardinal Mooney (5-4) to pull to within two at 40-38 with one quarter remaining.
A bucket by George Brandenstein 23 seconds into the final frame knotted the game at 40 apiece, but Ursuline followed with a 5-0 run as the Fighting Irish opened a 45-40 advantage.
A triple by Joe Cunningham and a bucket by Joey Kleeh at the 4:11 mark pulled Cardinal Mooney within 47-45, but the Ursuline defense pitched a shutout the rest of the way, ending the game on a 10-0 run.
“We played about as bad as we possibly could in the first half and much better after halftime to tie the game at the outset of the fourth period,” Cardinals coach Brian Danilov said. “After tying the game, however, we just had too many turnovers, didn’t box out or rebound and that hurt us.”