On Jan. 23 the Canfield girls basketball team lost a thrilling, yet heartbreaking game to powerful Hathaway Brown, 55-53.
It is often asked “what Brown can do for you” and what it may have done for the Cardinals is given them the confidence that they can compete with some of the tougher teams in the area. That fact was evident a few nights later when the Cardinals went into hostile Howland and upended the Tigers, 64-59 in double overtime. The win over Howland put Canfield at 4-1 in the All American Red Tier and thanks to a 53-40 win over Salem on Jan. 30, the Cardinals are perched on top of the conference standings.
“The girls have been playing at a high level of energy the past three weeks,” said Canfield head coach Pat Pavlansky. “We played Hathaway Brown extremely tough and that carried over to Howland. We are now tied with Howland for first place.”
Perhaps also helping Canfield was motivation from the first meeting with the Tigers. Howland clipped the Cardinals in Canfield by 11 points in early January and they learned from that loss that they needed to play a harder, tougher brand of basketball. That re-energized style served Canfield well when it had to battle Howland all night in this nip-and-tuck tussle. There was not a quarter all evening when one of the teams outscored the other by more than five points. Thanks to a pair of Jillian Halfhill free throws with less than a minute left in fourth period, Canfield climbed ahead 48-45. Three free throws by Howland’s Erika Nites, however, extended the night and sent the game into the first overtime. That opening extra session was played to a 7-7 tie so the seemingly never-ending evening evolved into a second extra session. A Sara Vrabel steal at the start of the second overtime led to a Sabrina Mangapora basket that snapped a 55-55 tie. Canfield would not look back after that Mangapora bucket as it scored seven of the next 11 points to earn the hard-fought win.
It was a grand night for Canfield’s offense as three players topped 10 points. Halfhill led all scorers in the game with 20 points. Mangapora was right behind her with 18 points. Cally Wollet scored 11 points. Kaitlin Kaleel collected seven points. Coach Pavlansky believes that the output on offense can be directly attributed to some newfound desire on the defensive end.
“Our girls have been playing much better defensively therefore giving us more confidence on the offensive end,” Pavlansky theorized. “Our young team is feeling more confident and comfortable about the expectations on offense and defense.”
A lot was expected of the Cardinals when they came home over the weekend to take on Salem. The Quakers entered the game last Saturday with 11 wins, but was only .500 in the AAC. Those expectations almost became part of a nightmare when the Quakers quickly built a 17-9 lead after one period. That is when this new, rejuvenated Cardinals defense dug their claws into the Quakers and put an end to their scoring spree. Salem would only score 23 points the rest of the game thanks, in part, to better defense on superstar Amy Scullion.
Scullion killed Canfield with 11 points in the first quarter, but was smothered by the Cardinals in the second stanza. Amy only amassed one basket and two free throws over the second eight minutes, which allowed the home team to take that period 11-6 and pull to within three points at halftime. Although Scullion scored 13 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 28, the rest of her teammates only scored four points combined. That was a big feather in the Cardinals’ defensive cap.
“It was a great win,” said Pavlansky on the morning after the game. “Our girls played well being down 10 in the second quarter then coming back to hold them to just 23 points in the final three quarters.”
With the defense doing its job, the offense was able to overcome the early deficit. Canfield had 26 possessions in the second half that accounted for 33 points. Wollet whipped in three three-pointers to finish with nine points. Halfhill hit the other two triples and led the team with 16 points, four steals and three rebounds. Kendal Malsch managed 11 points and six boards. Mangapora led the team with 10 rebounds and scored eight points. Kaleel aided Canfield with seven points, six assists and four rebounds.
With a 5-1 conference record (9-7 overall) and wins in four of its last five games, Canfield has cleaned up the inconsistencies that has plagued them throughout the first part of this season. If the Cards win out they will gain the Red Tier title. Pavlansky knows that, but he also realizes that capturing that crown will not be possible if his girls do not continue to give it their all each and every night.
“We hope and expect this high level of play to continue the rest of this season,” the coach said.