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Strong start powers Mooney past Harding

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Cardinal Mooney senior Maria Fire (12) drives in the post past Harding’s Ja’Leah Provitt and Nadia McQueen (34) She tallied a career-high 20 points in the Cardinals 43-22 victory over the Raiders.

YOUNGSTOWN — For the first time this season, Cardinal Mooney coach Dominic Diorio saw his team come out of the opening tip-off firing on all cylinders. Creating distance and inducing turnovers at their home gym early, the Cardinals dished Warren G. Harding its first loss of the year, 43-22.

“We talked and stressed a lot that we got to start stronger,” Diorio said. “That was huge for us to get started on the right foot with some energy. We went full court and got them out of their game a little bit. I think that was the key from the beginning.”

Creating over 40 turnovers throughout the night, Cardinal Mooney (4-3) kept the Raiders (4-1) from earning a made shot from the field until the 1:23 mark in the first frame when junior Zoey Jenkins drove and scored.

Leading 12-7 midway though the second, senior Oliver Rouser provided a spark, nailing a pair of three-pointers moments apart prior to halftime, scoring all eight of the Cardinals’ points during that period.

“I feel like the energy definitely helps our team, just being able to be there for your teammates and support each other, having the positive energy from your closest friends is so helpful,” Rouser said about her key threes. “We needed the leverage, the space to start to pull away in the game. It was more for the team than anything.”

Following a short drought, a mix of Rouser and fellow senior Maria Fire started to find their rhythm on the offensive end, especially around the post. Fire tallied eight first-half points and concluded her evening with a career-high 20.

“Honestly, with the defense that they were running, my coach, he really gave me a lot of confidence at practice and said ‘Make contact, go up with them, you’re a strong player.’ The confidence really helped me in the post,” Fire said. “We really didn’t know what they were going to be in, so in practice, just running zone plays.”

“Really looking for a high-low with me and Oliva, kicking it out and getting other people involved in the plays helped, too.”

A 15-2 run in the third quarter helped push Mooney into the win column. Junior Manuela D’Alessio and freshman Katie Pregibon pitched in three points apiece.

The Cardinals also were pleased with their defensive performance, holding Harding to just 22 points.

“Defense is definitely one of my favorite things. I love defense,” Rouser said. “I love putting the pressure on people. Defense is a work in progress with our team, and we seem to be advancing and it’s just so lovely to see.”

Harding drops its first contest after averaging 55.75 points per game heading into Wednesday. Starting a trio of freshmen with Nadia McQueen, Gianna Pompelia and Akeelha Barnes, Raiders coach Frank Caputo uses each day as an opportunity to develop a young roster.

“Still getting their feet wet a little bit, but at the same time, they practice hard. We’ve been getting after it. Our older girls need to give us something and get us in line, and today (Mooney’s) pressure got to us early,” Caputo said. “First thing we said is that wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but we are going to learn from this game, that’s one thing.

“Even some of the younger kids actually had some good comments of we have to get to work and get to practice, so I’m really excited to get to practice tomorrow and move on and get ready for Chaney and get rolling.”

Harding freshman Trinity Taylor led her team with five points, junior Chayse Powell following behind with four.

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