Mooney captures first district title since 1998
By joe scalzo
Their district-winning T-shirts read “It all started at 6 a.m.” but Cardinal Mooney senior Doug Caputo wants you to know that’s just when practice started. They had to wake up at 5 first.
“While our friends were out last summer, we were practicing,” said Caputo. “Since Day 1, he told us, ‘You guys have a district championship banner to hang.’ ”
“He” is Brian Danilov, the coaching vagabond who led Campbell to six straight district finals (and that was in his second stint with the Red Devils), took a year off and decided to try his luck at a football school that hadn’t won a district basketball title in 15 years, had just one returning starter and would go on to lose more games than it won in his first regular season.
“It would be nice to be able to skip all the building blocks and go right to the penthouse, but it don’t work like that,” Danilov said. “Even [Michael] Jordan got cut as a sophomore.
“You gotta to go through all that [poop] to get to the other side.”
Mooney’s there now. Behind 22 points from junior guard Joey Cunningham, the Cardinals knocked off Salem 61-46 in Saturday’s Division II final at Boardman High School.
REPORTER: What did you feed Cunningham?
DANILOV: The good-shootin’ pasta.
“He messes with me all the time,” Cunningham said, laughing. “I’m from an Italian family and he tells me to eat the fast pasta and the good pasta and the good-shooting pasta.”
Cunningham averages about 10 points a game, but scored 18 points in the first 20 minutes as the Cardinals battled back from an early 14-3 deficit to lead by double figures for most of the fourth quarter.
“I get my fair share of shots but they were falling tonight,” Cunningham said. “Thankfully.”
Caputo averages 16 points a game but he only needed to score seven. (He did grab 15 rebounds.) Mooney’s lone returning starter, Caputo was the one who hung the first net over his head, the one who coaxed his inexperienced teammates along and the one who smiled when asked if this win meant a little more to him than it does to the others.
“I’ve been through so many down periods and to get this team with this heart and this will fight, it means the world,” he said. “These kids have more heart than anyone.”
And then there’s Andrew Armstrong, who is listed as a 6-foot-1 freshman on the roster and plays like a 6-4 senior. He scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Salem’s two talented post players, Max Wolfgang and Anthony Shivers.
“With freshmen, you’re always worried about moving them up to early so they don’t get shell-shocked,” Danilov said. “We were lucky. I don’t think the kid ever gets shell-shocked.”
Senior Ryan Bush scored 19 points and Wolfgang had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Salem (16-7), which shot just 17 of 55 from the field and grew visibly frustrated by the fourth quarter.
“We never got in any type of flow,” said Quakers coach Rich Hart. “We didn’t execute very well after that first quarter and when we got some easy shots, we missed a lot of them.
“That’s just a bad combination.”
Now Mooney will get ready for the next step. Most people think that’s Thursday’s regional semifinal against Warrensville Heights at the Canton Civic Center, but for Danilov, it’s practice. It’s his favorite part.
“I love practice and they love practice,” he said of his team. “It works.”