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  Cleveland Heights Lutheran East Knocks Cards Out Of Regional Play:   March 18, 2021 Edition  
      Boardman News Sports
      The Cardinal Mooney Cardinals boys’ basketball team will look back on the 2020-21 campaign as one that tested their mettle but in the end, made them stronger as a unit for all that they had to endure.
      They ended last season right about the time the COVID-19 pandemic wrested control of our daily lives then had to adjust to off-season practice restrictions. They made sure to follow pre-season social distancing rules, adjusted their line-up due to injuries and if that weren’t enough of an interruption, had the middle of their season paused again, this time for 23 more days when testing revealed contact tracing.
      Through all the adversity, they posted a 17-5 overall mark – it was their best finish since the 2009-10 season when they also went 17-5 and just the third time overall since the turn of the century that they had 17 wins in a single season, going 17-6 in 2003-04 – won their first district championship then made their first regional appearance since 1997-98 as they authored both eight and five-game win streaks.
      It was a season that the team will never forget while fifth-year head coach, Carey Palermo, will most assuredly take pause to remember it as the season that finally bore the fruits of his labor as they put the Cardinals back on the local basketball map and made the program relevant once again in the Mahoning Valley.
      The season also produced the program’s seventh, 1,000 point scorer – this is the 64th season of varsity competition for the roundball sport at CMHS – when sharpshooter Michael Pelini canned his 35th and final point against LaBrae – the Cardinals won, 77-39 – in the district semi-finals for an even 1,000 when the final buzzer sounded.
      Pelini followed that up with a 24 point effort against Waterloo in the district title game, including the game-winner – a step-back triple – from well beyond the arc with 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime to lead CMHS to regional play for just the sixth time in school history.
      In his final game as a Cardinal against Cleveland Heights Lutheran East – a 74-31 loss by the Cardinals – his 19 point effort against the Falcons in the regional semi’s gave him 1,043 points for his illustrious career.
      It left him a point short, however, of family bragging rights – his Uncle Mark, better known as college football coach, ‘Bo,’ scored 1,044 for CMHS from 1983-86 – a point the two will no doubt discuss during family get-together’s when they reminisce about a missed lay-up, free-throw that went array or triple that went halfway down, only to come right back up and cost either the former or latter a chance to add to their totals
      Their season ended on March 9 at Twinsburg High School after that setback to the Falcons while the loss, albeit tough to take, couldn’t take away from the season the team had just posted.
      Pelini had a team-high 19 points while Mick Hergenrother added six markers to pace the Cardinals, who trailed just 9-4 after the opening quarter but fell behind 34-9 at intermission.
      “I told our kids in the locker room after the game that there’s no shame in losing to a team like that,” Palermo said. “They’re a special basketball team. They’ve won six straight district championships, been to state three times out of those six years and are the favorite to win the state title this year in our division.
      “If anybody gets the chance to see them play, they’re definitely worth the price of admission or if you have to pay to watch them on-line. It was a tremendous experience and we now know what level we’re going to have to compete at if we want to win a state title in the years to come, which we believe we have a chance to at least get back to the regionals.”
      Pelini led the team in scoring (18.2) and rebounding (6.8), also adding 1.5 assists and 1.7 steals in the 19 games that he played.
      “It was an awesome year for us,” Palermo added. “The kids were so deserving of everything they got, all the post-season accolades, being able to hang a banner in their own gym and cutting down the nets on their home court.
      “They were just an unbelievable group of kids, especially that senior class. Seeing what they worked through in their four years from where our program was to where it is now, it’s a feeling they’re going to remember and a feeling the school is going to remember for a long time.”
      In addition to Pelini, the other three seniors Palermo will lose to graduation include Thomas Fire (12.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 3.0 steals), Anthony Ellinos and Tarren Amill.
      Palermo hopes that some college or university will understand that Pelini is a student of the game and will only get better.
      “Michael has dressed varsity since day one for us,” Palermo stated. “I said quite a few times this year that if I was I was a better coach, he would have been playing varsity as a freshman. He’s gotten better every day that he stepped into our gymnasium while his love for and knowledge of the game was infectious to our entire team.
      “He’s a kid who puts up over 500 shots a day in the off-season and takes 100-300 shots a day during the season so all the honors and awards that he receives aren’t by accident. It’s a shame that more colleges aren’t noticing him, a shame that more colleges aren’t offering him scholarships or knocking down his door.
      “The biggest thing I hear is that he doesn’t look like a basketball player so it’s just amazing to me. You look at the teams we play, his production and the results so I just don’t know what a basketball player is supposed to look like.
      “He’s been great for our program and in the biggest moments always stepped up. That to me is the mark of a great player.”
      Palermo called Fire an unsung hero.
      “Thomas is another player who has really evolved and improved his game since his sophomore year,” he noted. “His first start in our program came when he was a sophomore and it happened to be our sectional game against Struthers.
      “Three of the last four years, Struthers has been in the district finals and we beat them in Thomas and Michael’s sophomore year. He had 16 points and never really looked back. He’s another captain, started every game for us since then and is also one of the heartbeats of our team.
      “He’s tough as nails and for two years has guarded the best player on the opposing team. Think about this because Thomas averaged 13 points a game for us and we’ve never called a play for him. He’s this incredibly unselfish player, gets out in the passing lanes and really disrupts teams from a defensive standpoint.
      “He’s a really good kid and the guy who made sure that everyone was working hard in practice, that everybody was there in the summer and the guy I could scream and yell at, which only made him go that much harder.
      “He’s a true competitor and a player who has been absolutely great for our program.”
      Palermo also appreciated both Ellinos and Amill, calling them both true team players.
      “Anthony is just an unbelievable teammate, a guy who literally accepted any role that we gave to him,” Palermo said. “He’s another quick kid who can guard on the ball and when his number was called, contributed and always gave as much as he can. You couldn’t ask for a better kid.
      “If you would have told me as a freshman that he would be a senior on our team and he’d be cutting down the nets with a district title, I couldn’t tell you it would have turned out that way but he just kept getting better and bought into us.
      “The same thing with Tarren. He is the one player on our team who would literally do anything you ask of him. You cannot find anyone in our program that doesn’t like Tarren but again, when his number was called he always gave as much as he could.
      “There might have been five or six games when his number wasn’t called but he always maintained a positive attitude. If you watched our games and saw our bench, he was always waving towels, cheering on his teammates and getting the guys into the game.
      “He was the first one off the bench giving players high-five’s, is a true program kid and someone who has a future in coaching as far as any sport with which he wants to get involved.”
      Palermo reiterated that the season, in fact, did have challenges.
      “We’ve had 10 of our top 12 players since June 1 and made it a point that this basketball team is going to be committed to conditioning, staying in shape and we kept telling our kids that since June,” he added. “When you look at the rules, you didn’t know when you were going to get shut down or when there was going to be a pause so we needed to make sure that the No. 1 thing we do is stay in shape.
      “We had two shutdowns in November, one in January and each time the kids knew, when they came back the first couple days we were going to run and we were going to run hard. We were going to get our legs back into shape because we’re going to pressure. We want to press and these kids bought into that.
      “Some basketball teams, it’s not that they don’t want to put in the work but when you’re running suicides, sprints and what-not, that can get old really quick. These kids didn’t shy away from the hard work.
      “If you look at our team, we’re not the most athletic, not the biggest nor are we the longest but I don’t think there are many teams that work as hard as we do or are as tough as we are. That’s a testament to the kids for not just buying into our coaching staff and culture but going above and beyond.”
      Despite losing four seniors to graduation, Palermo and staff will welcome back seven juniors and a sophomore back to the fold next season, a conglomeration of talent that saw considerable playing time this season and contributed to the team’s overall success.
      The seven returning juniors include Mick Hergenrother (12.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.6 steals), Jack Pepperney (4.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg), Drew Pecchia (2.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg), Zach Hryb (1.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg), Jack Phillips (1.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg), Jack Desmond (1.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg) and James Campbell (0.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg) while the lone sophomore is Jaxon Menough, who averaged 1.7 points and 0.6 caroms in 17 games played.
      “All eight players lettered so we’re expecting a lot out of all of them next year,” Palermo stated. “Mick [Hergenrother] is a returning captain and we’re going to lean on him a ton while those juniors’ roles are going to expand.
      “We actually think that our best class is our freshmen class right now with five or six of those players competing for varsity next year. Our freshmen team was 10-2 and our JV team was 10-4 this year so we really like where our program is at.
      “The junior class that will be seniors next year includes three starters returning in Drew Pecchia, Jack Pepperney and Mick Hergenrother, who I think is a kid who has a really good opportunity to play some college basketball when he graduates.”
      The Cardinals were 16-3 with Pelini and 1-2 when he went down with a broken wrist.
      “The low point of the season was probably when Michael [Pelini] broke his wrist,” Palermo noted. “We went 1-2 without him when he broke his wrist then went right into quarantine so it was like we just lost in overtime, the game in which he just broke his wrist then we were off for 10 days.
      “Then you need to get back into shape and must play Ursuline, Howland and then Ursuline, again. We just didn’t have the legs to play those games. Rivalry games have a lot of emotion and in those games we were just spent in the first quarter.
      “Then, you’re missing your leading scorer, one of your primary ballhandlers and a guy who has been in that game for three years.
      “Ursuline had one heckuva’ year, a heckuva’ start to their season but I would have loved for Michael and our team to have the opportunity to play them at full strength.
      “I feel very strongly about my guys because when we were at full strength, we went 16-3.”
      1,514 – Vince Marrow, 1984-87
      1,280 – Preston Wells, 1990-94
      1,136 – Scott Parker, 1986-89
      1,107 – Curtis Ingram, 2000-03
      1,094 – L.J. Sutton, 2005-08
      1,044 – Mark ‘Bo’ Pelini, 1983-86
      1,043 – Michael Pelini, 2017-21
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