BOARDMAN -The ride has come to an abrupt end for the second-seeded Salem Quakers after suffering a 61-46 defeat at the hands of sixth-seeded Youngstown Cardinal Mooney in the Div. II district final on Saturday night at Boardman High School.
"I'm very proud of these kids, the guys that play a lot, they're great kids but there's other five or six guys that don't play a lot and they showed a lot of character," Salem coach Rich Hart said. "They're great teammates and they are great young men. That's something that will make them great people, and that's the bottom line."
Salem got the start that they wanted for to the district final. It was the final three quarters there were forgettable for the Quakers.
Ryan Bush connected on back-to-back three pointers just inside of the three minute mark of the first quarter to put the Quakers (19-7) up by nine and by the end of the first eight minutes Salem had doubled up the Cardinals (12-11) 16-8.
Bush led the Quakers with 19 points while Max Wolfgang added 12 points.
"We got out to a good start but in the second quarter we just kind of got like deer in the headlights and we just didn't finish shots," Salem coach Rich Hart said. "We knew eventually they were going to play some man but we just didn't execute and when we did we didn't finish, that's basketball."
The Cardinals shook off their own lackluster start and used a 6-0 run to begin the second quarter to pull within two points. Mark Handel catapulted Mooney into the lead with a basket at 2:34, as the Cardinals went into the break leading 23-19.
Handel finished the night with 14 points.
"We came out with the mindset that we knew we were the better team," Youngstown junior Joe Cunningham said. "We knew we had to rebound and we wanted to run the floor on them. I think we did a pretty good job aside from the fact that we came out a little slow."
Salem cut the deficit to just one point as the third quarter unfolded, but Cunningham provided a spark to keep his team in the lead and the Cardinals began to surge from there.
"We cut it to one and we have a chance to get a loose ball there and we don't get it," Hart said. "It spurts out to their hottest shooter who knocks down a three. That was a back-breaker."
In all, 15 of Cunningham's game-high 22 points came from three point land. Freshman Andrew Armstrong also added 12 points.
"We fed him the good-shooting pasta before the game," Youngstown Mooney coach Brian Danilov said. "Joey always works hard for us and Armstrong has come a long way for us he couldn't have come along any better for us."
"(Coach) always jokes all the time, me being a Italian he tells me either 'eat the fast pasta' or 'eat the good shooting pasta,'" Cunningham said. "I was mentally prepared tonight, I hit my fair share of shots and they were falling tonight, thankfully."
The Cardinals steadily increased their lead, closing out the third quarter with a 38-33 score and never letting the Quakers back within striking distance.
"You have to give them (the kids) credit and give my staff credit," Danilov said. "You won't ever get anywhere by yourself. I'm always a great coach whenever I have talent, when you have talent it makes me look like a genius."
The loss for the Quakers concludes a three-year run for Hart's group that includes 10 seniors. Salem hits the reset button next year with Wolfgang the lone returning letter winner.
"It just shows where hard work and dedication can get you. Obviously it didn't get us where we wanted to go, but it got us pretty darn close," Hart said. "We have to wake up tomorrow and be proud of what we did, and maybe in our next endeavor, know that we have to work a little bit harder."