In what may have been quite possibly the most thrilling game this entire high school basketball season, Canfield's boys came up a tad short against its arch rival.
Canfield lost its home game to Poland, 46-43 in three overtimes on Friday, Feb. 8 to fall into a first place tie with the Bulldogs in the All American Conference American Tier.
Thanks to that setback, the Cardinals were thwarted in their effort to win a league title outright. The only way Canfield can capture the conference championship by itself is if it beats Niles on Feb. 15 and Poland loses to Struthers on Feb. 12.
"It was a tough one," said Canfield head coach Todd Muckleroy about the triple OT tussle. "It's a hard one to put your finger on. We knew what was at stake. The kids are tired mentally."
Canfield's kids are exhausted because over 40 minutes of hoops in one night will make you that way. The two schools who are known for staging exciting contests on various athletic fields of play throughout the years showed from the beginning of last Friday's match that this one would rank right near the top. After Poland took the first period by four points, Canfield came back to pull to within one point at halftime. The third period was played to a 14-14 tie and that's when someone seemingly took the air out of the basketball. Unbefitting of a game that finished so fantastically, the two teams missed shot after shot starting in the fourth period. That ineptness followed both the Bulldogs and the Cardinals into overtime. Only 24 points combined were scored in the final period and three overtime sessions including zero in overtime number two.
"The offense for both teams didn't do too well," Muckleroy admitted. "It was a little bit of bad shooting and good defense. We missed some big shots while they hit some."
The largest shots hit by the Bulldogs came in the final overtime when they got two hoops to take a four-point lead. Canfield crept back to close its deficit to 44-43 with a few seconds remaining, but a couple of clutch free throws by the Bulldogs' Jacob Wolfe kept Canfield's crowd from celebrating a conference crown. In fact, coach Muckleroy pointed to Poland's advantage at the charity stripe as a big factor in its victory.
"We fouled too much," said Muckleroy disappointedly. "(Poland) made more foul shots than we did while we hit less than 50 percent of ours. We didn't take care of the ball and had too many turnovers too."
When the Cardinals did secure the ball they had a hard time hitting shots. Three Cardinals combined to score 33 of their team's 43 points. Marco Delorenzo led his squad with 12 points, Cole Pryjma posted 11 points and Andrew Midgley made 10 points.
Delorenzo and Midgley were at the top of Canfield's scoring column again in a game at Cardinal Mooney on Feb. 5. Delorenzo tallied 20 points while Midgley menaced Mooney with 12 in a 60-59 come-from-behind Canfield triumph. The Cardinals climbed ahead of their hosts 20-5 to start the game thanks to the distinguished play from Delorenzo who scored eight points over the first eight minutes. The other Cardinals charged ahead, however, with a 20-7 run backing Canfield into a corner. Another huge Mooney march in the fourth period, this time a 10-0 run, gave the Cardinals a five-point lead. Big buckets by Delorenzo and Midgley tied the game with three minutes remaining. Then, unlike in the Poland game, Canfield clinched the contest with five huge free throws by Delorenzo.
That win over Mooney helped the Cardinals avenge a loss to Youngstown East a few days earlier. Although Canfield is now 14-4 overall and tied for the American Tier lead, it has shown a penchant for picking itself up after losing. That is what Muckleroy's men will be looking to do again when they host Liberty on Feb. 12.
"Liberty will be an important game," said the coach last Sunday. "We showed we can bounce back from tough losses before. All is not lost (for the conference championship)."
After finishing the regular season, Canfield will take on Canton GlenOak in the first round of the Division I tournament on Feb. 25 in Alliance. The winner of that game will battle the winner of the East/Boardman battle four days later. While succeeding in the playoffs is the major goal of all clubs, coach Muckleroy still wants his team to concentrate on taking the American Tier first.
"Even if we share the conference title it is something this team has never achieved," Muckleroy announced. "It would be a nice feather in their caps and a good stepping stone for the tournament and next year."