Anytime an athletic team from Canfield defeats one from rival Poland, it's a big deal around the Canfield campus.
There are some wins, however, that even exceed the extraordinary. Take, for instance, the Canfield boys basketball team's 54-35 victory over the Bulldogs on Friday, Jan. 11. The Cardinals entered that encounter winners of eight consecutive games since losing their season opener, but Poland was playing even better with a 9-0 record to start the season and would have the advantage of a rowdy home crowd in its pocket. Poland also possessed possibly the most potent player in the American Tier in junior Jake Wolfe. It would take a herculean effort by the Cardinals' defenders to make sure Wolfe wouldn't wear out his welcome against Canfield. To do that, Canfield head coach Todd Muckleroy called upon one of his scrappiest defenders.
"We knew we could disrupt them with our defense," said Muckleroy. "We are lucky to have a defensive stopper like Marco DeLorenzo. He played head up on Wolfe and set the tone. He also held down Salem's best scorer (the previous week)."
Photos by Mike Capps Town Crier correspondent
It was a full house last Friday, Jan. 11 at Poland’s field house when Canfield and Poland hit the hardwood. Canfield would be posting an 8-1 record while Poland would have an unblemished record with a 9-0 season thus far. Canfield started out slowly during the first period down 6-0, but suddenly turned it on and kept it on the entire night. Cardinal junior Jarret Vrabel slides into the paint and shoots over the Poland defense for two. Canfield handed the Bulldogs their first loss, 54-35.
DeLorenzo did such a fantastic job watching Wolfe, he held the junior to just five points, which is more than 10 points below his season average. Holding the Bulldogs fewer than 40 was also a magnificent feat by the entire Canfield club as was forcing 24 Poland turnovers. The team's defense was so destructive, the Cardinals were easily able to make up for an early 8-0 deficit to take a 17-15 lead at halftime. Coach Muckleroy made sure to mention the guts his boys showed battling back against the previously unbeaten Poland kids.
"They played hard and had a 'never say die' attitude," Muckleroy bragged. "I thought this game would be a little closer. We played well defensively last Saturday (in Canfield's 47-40 win over Salem), but not too well offensively."
Well, the Cardinals received help from the offense as well against Poland. Thirty-seven second-half points enabled the Cardinals to comfortably close out their nemesis. DeLorenzo not only bullied the Bulldogs on defense, but he also wore his shooting shorts to the gym leading all scorers with 15 points. The six-foot senior's combination of scoring and defending was surprising to his coach.
"I can't believe how much (DeLorenzo) scored for us," Muckleroy exclaimed. "That was a huge bonus."
During Canfield's nine-game winning streak, bonuses have been bestowed by a bevy of Cardinal kids.
"Our offense has been balance," said Muckleroy happily. "(Jarret) Vrabel and (Andrew) Midgley (who scored eight points against Poland) have done a nice job in the interior. They have been putting back a lot of shots after rebounds. Our bench has been solid too. (Kaymaun) Alexander and (Brady) Clark have pushed their games to another gear."
With a 9-1 record the Cardinals are about to push this entire season into another gear. It's improbable to think they will go the rest of the way without losing another game, but coach Muckleroy sure wants his team to try to keep this winning stretch alive.
"We're ready for all challenges," the coach conceded.
With a non-conference game up next against Alliance on Jan. 15 then a road trip to less-than-spectacular Beaver Local three days later, one may fear the Cards are prime for a letdown after pummeling Poland. The coach insisted that a disappointment won't happen if he prepares his pupils properly.
"A letdown is always possible," Muckleroy started, "but I told them to concentrate on being better than the other team. It's the coaches job to get us ready mentally and physically."