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Pelini hits milestone in victory

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Cardinal Mooney’s Michael Pelini shoots for two of his 35 points in the Cardinals’ district semifinal win over LaBrae on Tuesday.

YOUNGSTOWN — Top of the 3-point arc with 5:04 left in the contest. Cardinal Mooney senior Mike Pelini takes the ball, and fires it as he did all Tuesday evening.

Nothing but net. It’s money, and also his 1,000th career point.

Needing 35 points going into a district semifinal at home versus LaBrae, Pelini hit 1,000 on the nose. More importantly, he guided the second-seeded Cardinals to their first district final appearance since 2014 thanks to a 77-39 rout of the Vikings in a Division III Northeast II district tournament.

The path to 1,000 points wasn’t the easiest for Pelini.

Earlier in the season, he injured his wrist, which caused him to miss several games. Adding onto that was a COVID-19 shutdown in January that forced the Cardinals to reschedule a slate of games.

“When he was first able to take the hard cast off in rehab, he was showing me all of his rehab stuff,” said Mooney coach Carey Palermo about Pelini practicing his shooting motion following a wrist injury. “He was sending me videos on his phone, just laying his bed doing all the different stuff while rehabbing.

“So, we weren’t surprised that Micahel would be back. He was going to do everything he could.”

Pelini started off the game with a field goal before his team went on an 8-0 run to lead 10-2 over the Vikings. Another 9-0 run that was capped off with a shot off the hands of junior Mick Hergenrother allowed Mooney to take a 19-6 lead after one.

Leading 34-19 at half, Pelini already had 20 of his 35 points, but at the end of the day, he wanted to achieve his milestone with the team gaining confidence early.

“I just felt it going into this game, so I just wanted to shoot the ball,” Pelini said. “Get my teammates shots, and push the ball and rebound.

“It means a lot. We had a bunch of extra tickets, so we were able to have some students come, so it was cool to be able to do it in front of my friends out there who haven’t been able to come to the games all year, so it was pretty cool.”

Once Pelini achieved his 1,000th point, his fellow Cardinals shared in the jubilation on the court, and he ran up and met his parents for a meaningful hug.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Mooney junior Mick Hergenrother shoots aa three pointer during the first half against LaBrae.

Afterwards, a banner marking his achievement was presented to him, with his teammates joining in on the court for a photo.

Mike has some big shoes to fill, as his father Vince was a member of the Cardinals district championship team during the 1977/1978 season, and his uncle, Bo (the former YSU football coach), became the first player in program history to reach 1,000 points back in 1986.

“To be able to be up there with the names, not even my family, but the other families that all have legacies here, it’s really cool to be part of that now,” he said.

Mike now ranks seventh all-time in school history with 1,000 points, behind Bo’s 1,044 points.

Vince Marrow, currently the associate head coach and tight ends coach at Kentucky, owns the program record with 1,514 points from 1984 through 1987.

Michael Pelini dons the number 45, an unusual digit on the court, but it was more of a product of circumstance.

“Actually, I was going to go with 14, but it was a size medium, and I’m 6-foot-3 now, so I had that freshman year and it didn’t fit anymore,” he said with a laugh. “So, the only other number left was 45. They asked me if I wanted another number, but I was like, I’ll stay with it.

“Honestly, it’s huge on me, but I just untuck it and play loose.”

LaBrae (10-7) fought through injuries and shutdowns, but Vikings coach Chad Kiser felt his players learned life lessons this season.

“We just talked about this in the locker room, you’re never guaranteed anything in life,” he said. “Live today to the fullest, and work hard, that’s what we told them in the locker room.

“Whatever you’re doing, work hard at it, and live everyday because you never know what’s going to happen, there’s no guarantees whether it’s injuries or a global pandemic.”

Connor Meyer paced the Vikings with 11 points, and Aiden Stephens added 10.

Mooney (16-4) moves on to host the district final against seventh-seeded Waterloo, which upset No. 3-seeded Newton Falls, 54-51. The Cardinals lost to Poland during their last district final appearance back in 2014, but they won the title during the 2013 season against Salem.

Senior Thomas Fire tallied 16 points, and Hergenrother added 10.

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