The best way to snap a five-game losing streak is to pick up a nice conference win on the road.
That's exactly what the Canfield boys basketball team did Friday, Feb. 17 against Niles. A much-needed 15-3 run in the fourth quarter catapulted Canfield to a 61-47 victory over the Red Dragons last Friday night. Despite the Red Dragons' less than resounding 2-17 record, halting its losing skid in a hostile environment meant the world to the Canfield program.
"It was a big win for us," said Canfield head coach Todd Muckleroy following the contest. "Niles is a tough place to play."
While fire usually comes out of Red Dragons' mouths, it was the Cardinals who came out smoking to start the game. Canfield held a 19-4 lead at one point in the second period. That lead would shrink some, but the visitors still held a 24-14 advantage at halftime. A 12-2 run by Niles in the third had Canfield biting their nails. Early in the final period Canfield's lead was just 46-44. In fact, if it wasn't for the Cardinals connecting on 14 of 23 free throws for the game things could have been drastically different.
"We had to face some adversity (in the second half)," said Muckleroy. "That showed us a lot. I know we won by 14 points, but without hitting those free throws, we could be talking about another loss."
Most of those free tosses were off the hands of Matt Yourstowsky who hit 11 of 12 for the night, but more importantly, six out of six down the stretch. Those charity points enabled the senior to end the game with 19 points.
Junior Marco Delorenzo played extensive minutes and finished second in scoring with 17 points. He is just one of a few less heralded Cardinals to pick up their game in recent outings.
"We have needed other kids to step up for us," said Muckleroy.
Coach Muckleroy will never have to worry about senior Kyle Brown stepping up, around or through opponents to garner rebounds. Brown was brilliant last Friday scoring 13 points and grabbing 20 boards. Canfield engaged East on Valentine's Day and had their hearts pierced, 76-60. A major reason for that St. Valentine's Day massacre was the absence of Canfield's big man.
"Kyle didn't play against East and we really missed him," Muckleroy announced. "That game showed how important he is to our team. East outrebounded us by 15 and he had 20 alone against Niles."
Although the win over the Red Dragons was only the eighth of the year for the Cardinals it gave the boys something more than a checkmark in the "W" column could. It gave Canfield much needed momentum heading into the Division I state tournament.
"We needed to get back to playing good basketball," said Muckleroy honestly.
The Cards will need to keep playing good basketball the rest of the year or their season may end sooner than expected. Muckleroy's men are off until the Feb. 28 showdown with 7-11 Canton GlenOak in the opening round of the tournament in Alliance. Canfield will not start preparing for the Eagles until Feb. 22 and then have six solid days of practice. The coach will wait to see if having a lofty layoff is good or bad for his boys.
"I guess if we lose we won't like the time off," Muckleroy said chuckling. "It will give us a chance to heal some bumps and bruises."
That first round battle will pit the ninth-seeded Eagles against the 10th-seeded Cardinals with the winner advancing to play number 3 seed North Canton Hoover on March 3. Even though the Eagles are a sub .500 team, Muckleroy is leery of any program from the rugged Federal League.
"Like any Federal League team they are tall and athletic," said the coach after watching GlenOak defeat Hiland last Saturday. "They kind of resemble Fitch in the way they are put together and play."
Canfield's boys lost two games to the Falcons this season by a combined 32 points so they hope things are not very similar when they get together with GlenOak.