Tournament wins are not supposed to come this easy.
The Canfield Lady Cardinals entered the Division II Sectionals in Austintown as the No. 1 seed. Considering what the Lady Cardinals have done so far, it looks as if the tournament officials have gotten that lofty ranking correct. Canfield started the post season with a 60-33 victory over rival Salem on Feb. 18 then came back five days later to knock off Niles, 80-19 to advance to the district semifinals. Anytime your team outscores two playoff opponents by a combined score of 140-52, it puts an enormous smile on the head coach's face. Canfield coach Pat Pavlansky must have looked like the Joker this past weekend.
"It was a complete effort by our girls," Pavlansky announced. "We had great defense and great shooting."
Defense has been the Cardinals' calling card this entire season. There is no way they could have achieved a 23-1 record and win 21 games in a row without demoralizing opponents on the defensive end. Canfield showed its athleticism against Salem stripping the ball away 27 times then flexed its muscle against Niles, outrebounding the Lady Red Dragons, 53-24.
"We have been doing such a good job defending," Pavlansky said. "We caused 27 turnovers (versus Salem) and we only had five so that was a big key to that win."
Abby Baker was able to steal the ball five times from the Lady Quakers to lead the team. She was also fabulous offensively with 15 points. Sabrina Mangapora made Salem submit with 16 points and eight rebounds. Rachel Tinkey totaled 13 points, three steals and three assists. The Cardinals were able to climb on the Quakers early in the contest and never looked back.
About the only time the Cards looked back against Niles was when the coaching staff had to crane their necks to check on the health of senior Ally Pavlansky. Coach Pavlansky's daughter got tangled up under the hoop in the first quarter with a twisted ankle and had to have help to leave the floor. Although Ally's injury caused some concern, she was able to re-enter the game later and seems to be OK for the rest of the tournament. The same could not be said about Canfield's opponent last Saturday afternoon.
Niles was never able to hold off the steam-rolling No. 1 seed. The game got so ugly, Pavlansky was able to insert his non-starters into the game by 1:30. Of course, the game began at 1 p.m.
One of those reserve entrants was Emily Ellis who parlayed her extended playing time into eight rebounds. Erin Risner was Canfield's chairman of the boards with 12 rebounds and she also scored 10 points. Three other Cardinals cracked double figures in scoring as Mangapora poured in 18 points, Kayla Barko had 13 points and Abby Baker scored 11. Ashley Kaleel corralled seven points and five rebounds. Lynnae Whitehead, Jamie Giambattista and Crissy Gelonese all found their way into the scorebook as well.
It will take another total team performance for Canfield to stump Struthers in the semis. These Struthers ladies are some enlightened 'Cats holding a 19-4 record and No. 3 tournament seed. Yet, this is the same Struthers team that lost by nearly 30 points to the Cardinals earlier this season. Still, coach Pav is not taking the Lady Wildcats lightly.
"Struthers has some very talented players and we will have to play well in order to win at the district level," said Pavlansky.
Should Pavlansky's pupils whip the Wildcats tonight, they will advance to the district championship on March 2 to play the winner of West Branch and Poland. A clash with either of those fantastic foes would make one tasty district title tilt.