Girard sneaks past Irish in opener

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Girard junior Gus Johnson loads up for a 3-point shot during the first half Tuesday night. He scored a game-high 18 points.

GIRARD — The 2020 season left the Girard Indians as a motivated group.

After tallying a 3-14 record, the Indians turned their attention to a more normalized offseason training program after the COVID-19 pandemic and came into this season with a newly found focus.

Opening their campaign Tuesday evening at home, the Indians kickstarted their slate of games on the right foot, with a 49-47 victory over the visiting Ursuline Fighting Irish in a back-and-forth matchup.

A strong fourth quarter and a change of momentum helped guide Girard (1-0) past their foe.

“I thought we created some turnovers, even out of the zone, I thought we got some tipped balls, we’ve got some 50-50 balls, it’s an experienced group,” Indians coach Craig Hannon said. “They’ve been playing for a long time, and we have a lot of letter winners, they’re not going to flinch, and I think that’s key.

“This group shows up every day, they work their butts off, they listen, they play well together, they really care about one another, which is big, and they don’t care who gets the success, they just want to win, and I think that’s important.”

Ursuline (0-1) led 12-11 heading into the second quarter, but a quick 5-0 Ursuline run following the intermission led to a Girard timeout following a pair of good free throws off the fingertips of sophomore Jaden Payne.

Not scoring until the 4:46 mark before halftime, Girard senior Ashton Pozega put back a missed shot to start a massive 12-0 run to carry a 23-19 edge into the locker room, shutting out the Fighting Irish for the final five minutes of the frame.

Regaining the lead after Payne muscled in for a layup midway through the third at 24-23, with Ursuline eventually leading 32-27 into the final eight minutes. Trailing by as much as seven in the fourth, Girard took advantage of miscues on the Fighting Irish’s offense and turned them into buckets on the other end.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes
Ursuline junior Terrance Pankey fires up a jumper during the second half, scoring 13 in the losing effort.

Tying the contest up at 40 a piece following a feed from junior Gus Johnson to fellow junior Bobby Alejars, the Indians would take the lead moments later after junior Thomas Cardiero nailed a jumper to the left of the charity stripe.

Johnson concluded the evening with a game-high 18 points, including 12 in the first half.

That motivation from last winter led to success on the court Tuesday evening.

“We wanted to win, it felt really bad having that record last year, and we had our coaches have a great meeting with us, get in us, and I think we executed very well in the offseason,” Johnson said. “It’s a really good feeling, starting out 1-0, there’s no better feeling than that.

With a team that only fields a single freshman, ten sophomores, seven juniors, and only two seniors, it’s a tight knit group on court with Johnson and company.

“That’s the thing, we’ve been playing with each other since we were young, like fifth or sixth grade, and we’ve all just stuck together and working together, and building a bond, and now it’s finally paying off.”

Meanwhile, a short-handed Ursuline team finds themselves without several key players, including multiple starters with the on-going football season and state championship coming up this Friday.

For coach Keith Gunther, moving the games back wasn’t in the cards. The opportunity for inexperienced players to earn varsity minutes while the football players are away is something the Fighting Irish feel will pay off come tournament time.

“I’m getting some younger guys some experience, so when the football guys do come back, some of those guys are going to come with a winning mentality, and make that transfer over to the younger guys,” Gunther said. “So, it’s really important that those young guys get to play right now, everyone thinks it’s about winning and losing, for me right now, it’s about getting some experience, so in March we’re not playing seven guys like we are tonight, we’re playing 11 or 12.

“I want to play two or three more games, because when they (football) win on Friday, I’m going to say, hey, take a week, let your body rest, because I don’t want those guys burning out in March. I’m going to say, hey, take a week off, let your body rest, and then we’ll have three games under our belt without them, and then when they come we should be on the map to do some good things here.”

Behind Johnson’s 18 for Girard, Alejars and Cardiero each hit double-figures in scoring with ten points.

Payne led Ursuline with 13, with junior Terrance Pankey adding in 13 of his own, and junior Vincent Faluto tallying 11 after nailing a three-pointer as time expired.


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