To say this has been a happy holiday season for the Canfield boys basketball team would be an understatement.
Since losing its first game of the season on Dec. 4, Canfield has reeled off six straight victories to enter the new calendar year 6-1. More importantly, the Cardinals have won two consecutive games over All American American Tier rivals Fitch and Howland to start 2-0 in the league. Canfield's 67-64 victory over Howland on Dec. 28 epitomized the excellent effort the team has put forth all month. In fact, Canfield's play has even shocked its coach a bit.
"I'm pleasantly surprised," said Canfield bench boss Todd Muckleroy over the weekend. "I didn't think we'd be 6-1 at this point. We have built a lot of confidence in the first third of the season."
A lot of that Canfield confidence came over the past two games when it ascended to a first place tie in the Tier. Canfield and Howland traded blows all evening last Friday night in Howland with neither team taking the upper hand until midway in the third quarter. At that point, the Cardinals climbed to an eight-point advantage thanks to some sharp shooting from Andrew Midgley. Midgley would lead all Canfield scorers with 21 points.
The Tigers would not fold at home, however, and was able to go on a 12-2 run to retake the lead in the fourth period. The lead would then flip-flop five times in the final frame and Canfield found itself ahead again late. Howland's Evan Steele hit a three-pointer that made it 64-63 in favor of the home team with less than a minute to play. Canfield's Jarret Vrabel then saved the night for the Cardinals when he hit a baseline jumper on the next possession to put his team in front to stay.
"Our young group did a nice job responding to adversity," said a relieved sounding Muckleroy. "Howland is down a bit this year, but they are athletic and have a couple of nice players. We knew it would be a dogfight. Luckily we hit a few shots."
Cole Pryjma hit a good number of shots last Friday to finish with 17 points. Vrabel's huge game-winner gave him 16 points to go along with eight rebounds.
The Cardinals hit 12 of 25 field goals in the first half against Fitch on Dec. 21 to build an insurmountable 27-8 lead against the Falcons at home. That hot start was enough to let the Cards cruise to a 57-42 triumph. Pryjma paced Canfield with 16 points, which included a pair of early three-pointers to put a dagger in the visitors. Although Fitch played the game without a bunch of key players, coach Muckleroy was still pleased that his kids took care of business in a game they should have won.
"(Fitch) didn't have their best player so we needed to take advantage of that," said the coach. "We jumped on them early and did some good things. Our young team is doing the things that we need to do to get wins."
The coach hopes to keep the good times rolling in the first full weekend of the new calendar year. Back-to-back games against Hubbard at home and undefeated Salem on the road in successive days should be enough to get the Cardinals out of any holiday daze they may have been in. A trip to unbeaten and conference co-leader Poland on Jan. 11 should provide a stern test as well.
"We knew our schedule would get a lot tougher," said Muckleroy. "Our next six opponents have 30 wins combined. It will be a lot of competition."
In order to come out of that rough stretch unscathed, Muckleroy wants his club to do a little more offensively.
"We need to get a little smarter with the ball," said Muckleroy honestly. "We made some bad decisions at the end of the Howland game. We can start shooting the ball a little better too."
With a 6-1 record, Canfield's opponents will surely be taking their shots at knocking the Cards down a few pegs. That may prove to be chore much easier said than done.