By Pete Chiodo
SLIPPERY ROCK —
Cochranton High School has been waiting a long time for this.
“Overwhelmed,” said Cardinals senior Logan Herzberger. “It’s a great feeling.”
The Cochranton players have been waiting a long time.
“People have been saying to us since we were 8 years old that if we stick together we were going to do big things,” said fellow Cardinal Garrett Adams.
For some, it has been a long and difficult road back after a painful injury.
“There’s hardly a dry eye on the court right now,” said Josh Vanderhoof. “This means the world to all of us, especially for Nick Dickson, to get hurt last year and to work his butt off to get back here.”
The waiting came to an end Friday night at Slippery Rock University’s Morrow Fieldhouse as Cochranton won its first District 10 championship in 31 years after defeating Erie First Christian Academy 69-54 in the Class A final.
“It’s amazing,” said Vanderhoof. “I can’t explain it in any amount of words.”
Cochranton will take a night to enjoy this victory. Then it will be time for them to cheer on their female counterparts as the Lady Cardinals girls basketball team goes for its own D-10 trophy when it takes on Kennedy Catholic in the Class A girls final at Meadville High School.
Then after that it will be time to find out just how far this year’s Cardinals boys can take this thing as they enter the PIAA state playoffs as the D-10’s top seed.
“Relieved,” said Dickson. “I’m happy to get this out of the way.”
It was Dickson who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year’s District 10 championship game, which was then won by Kennedy Catholic.
After a challenging recovery process, the senior was able to rejoin his long-time teammates for their final season of basketball. And last night, they finally held up a district trophy.
“I guess it was almost a year ago when itn happened,” he said. “It’s a big accomplishment for me. But it’s not all about me, so I’ll just stop talking.”
Dickson was one of Cochranton’s top scorers last night, registering 16 points. Herzberger scored 11. Adams and Nate Wigton added nine apiece.
The Cardinals top scorer, however, was Vanderhoof, who shot the lights out of the Morrow Fieldhouse, hitting six of nine 3-pointers and finishing with 24 points.
“Josh Vanderhoof was on fire,” said Dickson.
The Cards hit 11 treys total, tying a season-high. Dickson had a pair. Herzberger, Adams and Wigton each drained one.
Adams got the scoring started with a 3-pointer. And the Cards never trailed, leading 17-10 after one period, 32-21 at halftime and 49-38 going into the fourth.
Every time Erie First would encroach on Cochranton’s lead, the Cards would hit a big 3 to push them back again. The Cardinals were 11-for-20 from the arc for the game.
Yet, it wasn’t just hot shooting that earned Cochranton the victory. The Cardinals also played an outstanding defensive game against a vastly taller Erie First squad, which had 6-foot-11 Valentine Sangoyami and 6-6 Augustine Mathias working the post.
Yet, the Cardinals harassed the Eagles big men down low, coaxing numerous travel calls and snagging a handful of steals, making sure they didn’t have an easy-going night underneath the hoop.
Cochranton also ended up out-rebounding the towering Eagles 24-18. And it was a team effort. Dickson led the way with nine boards. Adams had eight. Vanderhoof grabbed five.
Sangoyami ended the night with 19 points (right on his season average) and six rebounds (well under his average of 12 per game). Romeo Kabongo added 18 points, hitting four treys. Mathias scored a dozen.