There isn’t one player on the Cardinal Mooney High boys basketball team who is expected to do it all.
The Cougars’ ability and willingness to share the basketball when the opportunity presents itself has been the catalyst for Cardinal Mooney’s success this season.
And, on a night when Cardinal Mooney nearly saw its season come to an end, the Cougars tried to focus on what had led them to this point thus far — strong defensive pressure and moving the ball around.
After letting a 17-point lead disappear in the fourth quarter, the Cougars made a couple of big plays and some clutch free throws down the stretch to pull out a 55-point victory over St. Petersburg Catholic, in the Class 3A-Region 3 semifinals Feb. 19.
With the win, Cardinal Mooney will travel to Community School of Naples, which defeated Pahokee 74-71 in double overtime of its semifinal, for the regional championship Feb. 23. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
“We are very excited for the opportunity to play in the regional final Saturday night,” coach Stefan Gates says. “Sometimes, you have to win games when you haven’t played your best, and that was us tonight.”
Cardinal Mooney, which cruised into the regional semifinals with a 92-70 victory over Shorecrest Prep Feb. 14, took a 34-22 lead into the locker room at halftime. But in the second half the Cougars made a series of uncharacteristic turnovers, which cost them their lead.
With the game tied at 44 with two minutes to play, sophomore guard Antonio Blakeney made a key jumper. Sophomore Ryan McMahon then blocked a shot and fed the ball to Blakeney on a fast break. Blakeney was fouled and converted a pair of free throws to give the Cougars a 48-44 lead.
Blakeney, Justin Namjy and McMahon made consecutive trips to the foul line to secure the victory for the Cougars.
Blakeney finished with 20 points and seven rebounds. McMahon had six points, and three assists and Blair Perry added five points and two assists.
“The guys have worked tremendously hard and have demonstrated a repeated willingness to share the basketball,” Gates says. “(It’s) a tremendous opportunity for this team, our program and the school to reach the regional finals and have the opportunity to play for a Final Four berth.”
The Sarasota Christian School boys basketball team saw its share of ups and downs this season.
Over the past month, the Blazers have learned how let go of themselves as individuals and focus on what it means to put their teammates first.
The result — a 14-game stretch in which Sarasota Christian only lost one game.
“We’ve got guys who all contribute in different ways,” coach Phil Helmuth says. “It’s probably one of the most unique blends of individuals I’ve ever coached, but somehow, they’ve come together as a team.
“I’m proud of them,” Helmuth says. “They’ve figured it out, and they’ve taken it to heart.”
But, on a night when Sarasota Christian needed to maintain its composure, the Blazers found themselves making some of the same mistakes that plagued them early on in the season.
Sarasota Christian had a 15-11 lead before the game slowly began to get away from the Blazers.
First Baptist Academy, which defeated Sarasota Christian 69-64 during the regular season, went on a 9-0 run en route to a 36-24 halftime lead. The lead proved to be too much for the Blazers to overcome, while Sarasota Christian saw its season come to a disappointing end with a 77-51 loss to the Lions in the Class 2A-Region 3 semifinals Feb. 19.
“We (knew) we couldn’t dig ourselves into a hole,” Helmuth says. “That (was going) to be the key.”
Henry Ford scored 17 points and hauled in nine rebounds in his final game in a Blazers uniform. Blake Morrow added 16 points and four steals. Sean Carrigan had six points and 11 rebounds.
RIVERVIEW HIGH SCHOOL
The Riverview High boys basketball team saw its season come to an end with a 55-41 loss to Wharton in the Class 8A-Region 2 semifinals Feb. 19.
With the game tied at 21 at halftime, the Wildcats opened the second half with a 9-0 run.
The Rams, who won their third- straight district championship this season, were unable to bounce back.
Austin Walker finished with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists to pace the Rams. Vic Sinopoli added 12 points. Nick Havener had eight points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
Senior Josh Beychok played his final game for Riverview.