SALEM – It wasn’t pretty, but the Cardinal Mooney Cardinals will take it.
The Cardinals get to enjoy the Christmas break following a hard-fought defensive battle in a 36-34 victory over the previously undefeated Neshannock Lancers to capture the Salem Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament.
The win improves the Cardinals to 5-3 on the season, stopping a three-game slide before the tournament. With the loss, the Lancers are now 5-1 on the year.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game in the world,” Cardinals’ coach Carey Palermo stated. “They played a triangle and two. That really caught us off-guard because we hadn’t prepared for it, and I hadn’t seen it. So, I think we got a little sped up in our process and threw us off the reads that we normally make.”
It appeared that the Cardinals might make quick work of the Lancers in the opening quarter as they raced out to a 5-0 lead before the Lancers got on the scoreboard with just 3:58 remaining in the frame. The Cardinals held a 10-4 lead at the end of the first period.
But the Lancers came to life in the second quarter as they began the session with a 9-2 run to capture the lead at 13-12 with 4:31 left in the period on two converted free throws by the Lancers’ Michael Sopko.
It would be the only time in the contest that the Lancers enjoyed the lead. Just before halftime, the Cardinals Ashton O’Brien would get a steal and layup to help provide them with an 18-13 lead at the intermission.
“I like to come in off the bench and play some good defense and knock down some shots for my team,” O’Brien said. “Anything to help my team.”
Following a three by O’Brien at the 3:54 mark of the third quarter, the Cardinals had built an 8-point, 25-17 lead in the contest. But once again, the Lancers made a run by outscoring the Cardinals 5-1 to close the period with the Cardinals leading 26-22.
“We were lucky to make some timely shots when we needed them,” Palermo said. “James Campbell and Ashton O’Brien made some big shots in the fourth quarter that either extended the lead or put us back in front.”
The Lancers would close the deficit down to just 2-points at 29-27 early in the fourth period, but the Cardinals were able to keep the Lancers at bay until late in the quarter when Sebastian Sopko converted to two free throws to make it a 2-point game at 36-34.
The Cardinals would miss the front-end of a one-and-one with just 32-seconds left, but a missed shot by Sopko with six seconds left, followed by an inbound pass back to Sopko being tipped into the backcourt by the Cardinals Jack Phillips would secure the Cardinals victory at the final buzzer.
“Jack Phillips made an awesome play. We knew they were going to try to get the ball to number 24 (Sopko), and he (Phillips) was able to get his hand in the passing lane and deflect it to allow time to run off the clock,” Palermo said.
The Cardinals will try to keep the momentum rolling in their next game on Tuesday night when they host the Canton Central Catholic Crusaders.