By Steve ruman
With a roster that included just one returning starter, Cardinal Mooney coach Brian Danilov knew his Cardinals would experience growing pains during the 2012-13 season.
“You just can’t teach experience,” Danilov said. “You can coach the kids at practice and teach them everything you know about the game, but nothing beats game-night experience.”
However, Danilov also believed that he was surrounded with enough talent and hard-working athletes to weather the storm.
“We had a tough schedule, especially early on,” Danilov said. “We felt like we would have our ups and downs, but we also knew that we’d grow along the way.”
Indeed, it was a roller-coaster ride for Mooney during the regular season. The Cardinals raced out to a 3-0 start, logging wins over Youngstown East, Youngstown Christian and Steubenville. They then lost five of their next seven games, and eventually headed into the postseason with a 9-11 record.
Three tournament wins later, a more seasoned Mooney team is headed to the regionals for the first time in 15 years.
Tonight, the Cardinals (12-11) will face Warrensville Heights (16-10) in a Division II regional semifinal at the Canton Memorial Civic Center. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.
Mooney earned its ticket to Canton after logging tournament victories against West Branch, Poland and Salem to win the Boardman District.
After entering the tournament as a six-seed, the Cards’ three wins were by an average of 24 points.
“Our defense has been consistent, and we’ve had multiple guys step up at key times,” Danilov said. “This team is unselfish. They are all about doing whatever it takes to get the win.”
Against top-seeded Poland, junior Mark Handel led Mooney with 15 points in a 51-33 win. In a 61-46 victory over Salem in the district title game, Joey Cunningham scored 22 points, while Doug Caputo (16 ppg average) scored seven points and pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds.
Caputo — the lone returning starter at the beginning of the season — says that hard work and team chemistry is the key to the Cardinals’ post-season success.
“We don’t have any one player who stands out, we just have a bunch of guys who work well together and who never quit,” Caputo said. “Win or lose, we always come to practice the next day with the same attitude and drive.”
“The great thing about our team is there are no egos. A player could score zero points, but if we win he’s just as happy as the leading scorer.”
Tonight, Mooney will face an opponent with a similar resume. Warrensville Heights won the Ashtabula district as a sixth-seed. The Tigers had to get through four teams to get to the regionals, including top-seeded Mentor Lake Catholic.
A year ago, the Tigers were 3-18. They start one senior, three juniors and a freshman.
In the Tigers’ 64-55 win over University School in the district title game, freshman guard Yavari Hall led all scorers with 17 points. Junior forward Charles Franklin (6-6) scored 10 points, and 6-7 junior center Jermaine Brown had nine points and three blocked shots.
“They’re going to be a handful,” Danilov said. “They’re going to throw a lot at us, including height. They’re front court averages about six-six, and they are smart, athletic players.
“We’re going to have to play one of our better games in order to have any chance. We have to play good, fundamental ball from start to finish.”
Tonight’s winner will play the winner of the night’s earlier game between Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.