If Tuesday’s River Valley Conference contest between St. Anne and Grant Park was a 12-round prize fight, the Cardinals would have been given several 10-counts in the first couple of rounds.
But each time they were knocked down, the Cardinals got back up. And by the time the final bell rang, they stood as the victors.
Down by as many as 17 points in the first half, the Cardinals mounted a furious second-half rally to top the Dragons 61-57 in Grant Park.
The Cardinals improved to 11-7 on the season and 5-1 in the conference. Grant Park snapped a six-game winning streak, dropping to 12-5 and 5-1 in conference play.
“Our kids got fired up there, and once we went down 17, we got a spark,” Cardinals coach Rick Schoon said. “We got a couple of defensive stops and knocked a couple shots down, and that got us the momentum we were able to use to push through.”
Early on, it seemed the Dragons were poised to shoot the Cardinals right out of the gym. They went on a 14-0 run in the first quarter that was started by a Logan Weissgerber two-handed jam and capped off by David Palan and Daniel Palan each knocking down a 3-pointer to put Grant Park ahead 24-7.
“Shots were just falling for us,” Dragons coach Bryce LaMore said. “We took smart shots, and it showed by how many we knocked down.”
Slowly but surely, the Cardinals began to claw their way back, going on a 14-5 run to crack the Dragons’ lead to single-digits at 29-21, before ultimately taking a 36-25 deficit to the locker room.
Schoon credited Miguel Medina, who buried two 3-pointers and scored eight points during the Cardinals’ run, with giving his team confidence before the break.
“That got us back within striking distance; without those [3-pointers], we’re still down by almost that 17 points,” Schoon said. “We needed those, and that helped us take momentum into the second half.”
The Cardinals were able to chip into the Dragons’ lead a little more in the third, especially at the end of the quarter, when Caleb Baines scored five quick points to make it a 48-41 game.
And that’s when Brooks Schoon stepped up.
Usually a defensive- and passing-oriented forward at the head of the Cardinals’ vaunted 1-3-1 zone defense, the 6-foot forward carried the scoring load in the fourth.
He buried a 3-pointer to tie the game at 53 with four minutes left and, on the next Cardinals possession, scooped an offensive rebound and drained a jumper from the short corner to put the Cardinals on top 55-53, scoring 10 of his game-high 18 points in the final frame.
“Someone had to step up, so I figured why not me?” Brooks Schoon said. “But it was a team process.
“I told [the team] that I wasn’t going to give up on them, and they told me they weren’t going to give up on me.”
The Dragons briefly tied it back up at 56 on Hayden Lehnert’s layup with 1:09 on the clock, but that was the last basket the Dragons would score. They had some chances from the free-throw line, but ultimately sunk just 1-of-4 attempts in the final minute.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals went 5 of 6 from the line in the final minute to seal it, including Brooks Schoon making all four of his attempts.
He added eight rebounds, six assists and two steals to his 18 points in a game Rick Schoon said meant a little extra to Brooks.
“He’s pretty good friends with a lot of kids from Grant Park, so he wanted to make sure that if we lost, he’d go down with a fight,” Rick Schoon said. “He attacked the basket at will, and at the top of our 1-3-1, got a lot of tips and made them float a lot of passes, which helped us rotate.
“He took it personal tonight and got rewarded.”
While the Cardinals got hot offensively, it was ultimately their defensive presence, mainly traps out of their 1-3-1 zone, that won it for them.
After the Dragons drained 8-of-16 3-pointers in the first half, the Cardinals held them to an 0-of-17 effort from downtown in the second half.
“In the regional championship last year against Tri-Point, they did the same thing to us and just knocked down a bunch of 3s out of the gate,” Brooks Schoon said. “At halftime, we said that was their best punch, and if we kept running, we work so hard in practice that they would get tired.”
The two teams now find themselves tied atop the conference standings as the final month of the regular season approaches. While the Cardinals have enjoyed a healthy dominance in the RVC during Rick Schoon’s 20-year tenure, he said the Cardinals had their eyes opened by the Dragons on Tuesday.
“I think the sleeping dog got woken up tonight,” Rick Schoon said. “The kids responded, and I’m proud of them.”
Miguel Medina had 10 points, five rebounds and an assist for the Cardinals. Alec Sirois had nine points, two rebounds and an assist. Caleb Baines had eight points, six rebounds and a block.
Max Markland led the Dragons with 12 points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal. Logan Weissgerber had 11 points, seven rebounds, an assist and two steals. David Palan had nine points, and Daniel Palan and Will Schneider each had eight points.
Both teams are back in action Friday. The Cardinals host Beecher, and the Dragons head to Cullom to take on Tri-Point.