NAPLES -- Maybe it was the long bus ride, maybe it was Community School of Naples, or maybe it just wasn't meant to be.
Cardinal Mooney's dream season ended in disappointment when the Cougars dropped a 73-53 decision to host CSN in the Class 3A-Region 3 championship game Saturday night.
The Cougars never led and looked as if they weren't ready to play as CSN (28-2) ran right past them in the early part of the game for easy layups and beat Mooney down the court on numerous occasions en-route to a 41-22 halftime lead.
Cardinal Mooney couldn't stop Seahawks big man, 6-foot-5 junior Jeff Merton, who lit the Cougars up for 19 points in the first half, knocking down all three of his attempts from beyond the arc while connecting on five of eight shots overall and grabbing eight rebounds.
The closest the Cougars could get was 12 points when they trailed 58-46 with 4 min
utes, 45 seconds left in the game. But CSN went into a stall game, forcing Cardinal Mooney to foul, and the Seahawks rarely missed from the stripe, converting 19 of 22 for the game.
"We dug ourselves a hole in the first quarter. They did a nice job of getting the ball down court, and we didn't respond and get back as well as we needed to do defensively," Cardinal Mooney head coach Stefan Gates said. "At halftime, I told them we have to do a better job in defensive transition and crank up our defensive pressure to try to get back into the game. We made a run in the third quarter, but we could never break it down into single digits. We didn't slide our feet well, and our gap help wasn't as good as it needed to be in the first half (when CSN shot 14-of-30)."
Jamie Glasser nailed two treys and drove in for a layup to score eight points and keep the Cougars close at 20-14 after one quarter.
CSN pulled away in the second period. The Seahawks outscored Cardinal Mooney 17-4 through the first 5½ minutes of the quarter to take a 37-18 lead. They controlled the boards, pulling down eight rebounds to only two for the Cougars and drained three of four attempts from bonus land.
CSN head coach Greg Donahue scouted Mooney four times in anticipation of a matchup and was looking for a way to stop Cougars leading scorer Antonio Blakeney, a sophomore who came into the game averaging 25.2 points.
Blakeney was held to season-low 15 points, connecting on 6 of 16 shots with five rebounds. Merton finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds and converted 8 of 13 field-goal attempts.
"We took them out of their game early on by stopping their transition and attacking the basket," Donahue said. "I saw them destroy a lot of good teams, so we really focused on containing the dribble. I thought we could expose their transition defense. They didn't get back very well tonight. We put Jeff on Blakeney. He has never defended out on the wing, so this is new to him, and he learned quickly against a great player.
"I knew they liked to run, but I knew they didn't like to run back. And we like to run both ways, so it is something we took advantage of."
The transition baskets and the stall game enabled the Seahawks to connect on 25 of 47 shots, while Mooney struggled, hitting 19 of 51 and was an uncharacteristic 5-for-21 on 3-point attempts.
Mooney's two senior starters hit double figures in their final game. Glasser had 11 points (4-of-6 shooting), and Parker DelMedico chipped in 11, hitting 3 of 9 shots. Cougars big man Matt Hueston had eight points (4-of-7 shooting) and tied Blakeney for rebound honors with five. CSN outrebounded Mooney 36-19.
Cardinal Mooney finishes one of its most successful seasons with a 25-4 record and district and Christmas tournament titles and reached the region final for only the third time in school history.
"We did a lot of great things, and I am really proud of our kids," Gates said. "We won 25 games against some good teams. It was a darn good year for Cardinal Mooney basketball. We will take a few weeks off and then try to get them stronger and improve themselves individually."