With Poland coming into the contest undefeated and Canfield with just a pair of losses you knew that both teams were well schooled in the art of basketball. A leg up in the race for the All American Conference Red Tier title was in the balance. Besides, the rivalry between the two schools separated by just a handful of miles has been well documented in previous battles.
What the overflow crowd in Canfield’s gym did not expect, however, was enough offense to qualify this game for the Arena Football League. Hot shooting and some incredible individual performances resulted in a 96-89 win for Canfield that gave it 10 wins on the season and pushed its conference record to 2-0.
“It was a good win for our kids,” said Canfield head coach John Cullen last weekend. “We had the right formula for what (Poland) was trying to do against us.”
Part of that formula was to unleash shooter Joe Hoelzel. Two free throws by Hoelzel in the final minute gave the six-foot, three-inch senior a career best 40 points against Poland. Hoelzel’s success was a combination of Cullen’s game plan and his willingness to fight his way to the basket.
“Everyone did what they had to do,” explained Cullen. “We practiced all week getting behind (Poland’s) defense and Hoelzel was the press breaker. Joe was the finisher. He went to the rim with authority.”
Helping Hoelzel on offense was Mike Podolsky and Justen Vrabel who each went for 20 points. Dan Campolito made it a foursome in double-digits with 14 points.
Canfield would need all of those huge scoring nights because the Bulldogs bounced out to a 10-point lead at halftime. Leading the way for Poland was Niko Fatimus who was fabulous from behind the three-point arc. Fatimus found his stroke to hit 11 threes en route to his game-high 42 point evening. Poland also picked up a 20-point night from Ben Donlow. Those pair of performances left Canfield’s coach awestruck.
“Niko and Donlow played their best games against us ever,” Cullen claimed.
Down 42-32 at intermission, Canfield clobbered the visitors 64-47 in the second half. Plenty of the praise for that turnaround goes to the Cardinals’ offense, but Cullen gave credit to his defense for the way it handled one very big Bulldog.
“Our defense put pressure on (David) Baker and forced him to foul out,” Cullen said about Poland’s six-foot, six-inch center.
The coach also mentioned the great rebounding effort of his team. Canfield had 11 more boards than the Bulldogs with Vrabel grabbing 14, Hoelzel having 11 and Podolsky pulling down 10.
“Poland is a better rebounding team than us,” Cullen said, “but sometimes they don’t finish. We wanted to win the rebound war and we battled them and won it.”
It was expected to be another high scoring game when Canfield traveled to Niles McKinley this Tuesday, Jan. 26. The Red Dragons are averaging 70 points per game entering that contest and own the Red Tier’s leading scorer in Ryan Frantz. Cullen acknowledged before Tuesday’s tilt that stopping Frantz would be the way to go for his defense.
“Frantz is the leading scorer in the league and is one of the hardest kids to guard in the league,” the coach said. “(Niles) is an athletic team. We need to go get them.”
After the rumble with the Red Dragons, Canfield clashes with Howland on Feb. 2. With two wins already in the conference and Groundhog Day coming up, Cullen hopes his clan does not repeat what happened last year after beating Poland.
“We were in the same spot last year,” said Cullen. “We lost the second game against Poland after winning the first one. We were in control then lost a couple other games and lost out on the league.”
For the record, that next game with Poland will be Feb. 26. Better get your calculators ready.
Photos by Emmett King, Town Crier correspondent
A Poland player attempts to block the shot of Mike Podolsky, who was still unstoppable after putting 20 points on the board for the 98-89 Canfield win on Jan. 22.