STRUTHERS - After the first two games of the season, LaBrae hadn't faced a real test, cruising to two routs.
With coach Chad Kiser not knowing how his players would handle adversity in a game setting, the Vikings finally faced a strong challenge in the form of Cardinal Mooney during the Hope Classic at Struthers High School, as the Cardinals gave LaBrae all it could handle. The Vikings passed - barely - with a 66-56 win.
"Overall, happy to come and beat one of coach (Brian) Danilov's teams," LaBrae coach Chad Kiser said. "You have to be happy with it because he's a great coach, they play hard, they play the right way, they're going to be physical. So, you know you're going to be tested.
"(We) passed the test, but obviously, we have some deficiencies there we have to improve on."
LaBrae (3-0) looked to be en route to another easy win early, starting the game on an 11-3 run over the first two-and-a-half minutes.
Mooney (0-1) didn't roll over, however, finishing the quarter on an 11-6 run for the final 2:45 to tie it at 22 going into the second quarter. The Cardinals clawed their way back into the game using some sharp perimeter shooting from Joe Cunningham, who drained two of his four 3-pointers in the first and finished with a team-high 18 points, and others, as they hit four 3s.
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
LaBrae’s Peyton Aldridge (10) grabs a rebound while Cardinal Mooney’s Ross Lanzo (30)?attempts to guard him during the first half of their game on Saturday night at the Struthers Fieldhouse.
The Cardinals' prowess from beyond the arc early let the Vikings know they were in for a tough game.
"They had a couple of shooters around the (3-point line), just knocking them down," said Peyton Aldridge, who recorded a double-double of 30 points and 13 rebounds. "We really had to settle down, settle in and close out on them and try to rebound after one shot and not let them get offense rebounds."
Even when Mooney's shooting touch let the team down at times, the Cardinals used physical play on defense, something that the Vikings hadn't played against yet. That style of play helped Mooney claw back from a nine-point deficit early in the third quarter to make it two-point ballgame following an Andrew Armstrong field goal with 6:19 remaining in the game.
The Vikings pulled away in the end, thanks to a 9-of-11 performance from the line by Aldridge and senior guard Justin Jenkins over the final 3:35.
While committing "seven too many" turnovers according to Kiser (LaBrae had 17 in the game), Jenkins said he and his teammates did well against the pressure.
"We handled it good," Jenkins said. "We handled the ball. Every practice, we go through this drill called '12 seconds,' just practicing with the defense on you tight just like (Mooney's defense)."
Having just one week to prepare for the season because of the football team's run to the Division IV state final, Danilov said his players still had its "football legs," but he found the performance against LaBrae in the opener promising.
"I wish we could play these guys again or at least every other week because you want to play good teams that make you better," Danilov said. "But we just need to get back in the gym, keep working. It's going to take us a few more weeks to get back to where we need to be as far as basketball legs, shooting and running, making foul shots - all the little stuff."
Kiser agreed with Danilov, saying the outcome could have been different if the game had played later in the season, but the LaBrae coach said he hopes his inexperienced team can learn from how to deal with certain situations, including down the stretch where the Vikings committed six turnovers.
"They haven't been in that situation yet this year," Kiser said. "Having a lot of new guys at the varsity level, that's something that we have to learn and be ready for."
The final game of the Hope Classic between Warren G. Harding and Niles was canceled because of inclement weather. The game has yet to be rescheduled.