With the weather conditions snowy, windy and sub zero, fans that made the trek to Covelli Centre Saturday were in need of some hot high school basketball to warm things up.
That is exactly what they received when Canfield faced off with West Middlesex in the third annual Lariccia See Them Rise showcase in the nightcap of a tripleheader.
The back and forth marathon with neither team gaining more than a single digit lead, the Cardinals came home from downtown Youngstown with a 59-57 double overtime victory over the visiting Big Reds.
"There could have been a couple times when we folded," said Canfield head coach Todd Muckleroy. "We were mentally drained, but we stayed focused."
Muckleroy's kids were focused enough to play near perfect defense throughout the fourth quarter and the two extra periods. The biggest defensive play occurred with just seconds remaining in the second overtime when Canfield's 65 Jarret Vrabel stepped in front of Big Red player and stuffed what would have been another game-tying basket back in the surprised shooter's face. That maneuver put the finishing touches on an eventful night for Vrabel who also was a force on offense with 19 points.
"Jarret had the big block at the end of the game," Muckleroy said. "He also did a nice job hitting some shots. Overall, we had some good stops to send the game to overtime and then we hit some big three's late."
The heroics Saturday were desperately needed in Canfield because the events from Friday night were disheartening. Playing in front of a packed house of red and black clad Cardinal fans, the home team was nearly run out of its own gymnasium by the 11-1 Fitch squad. The Falcons led early and, aside for some lapses late in the game, cruised to a 69-55 triumph that all but sealed Canfield's fate in the All American Conference.
"We were upset with that game," Muckleroy said. "We didn't just lose, we got beat. That pretty much takes care of us as far as the conference is concerned. You have to give credit to Fitch, they are a good team."
Fitch hit Canfield using an inside-outside offensive attack that saw its point guard Jessie Driver drive through the lane then kick the ball out to super shooter Michael Butcher who poured in 26 points. The Falcons were 10-17 from three-point range while the Cardinals were scrambling all night just to do something positive on offense. Andrew Midgley did the most damage for the Canfield offense, at one point hitting five straight baskets in the second quarter to keep the game close.
"We have a lot to play for still," Muckleroy said. "We're looking forward to getting some rest then be ready for our upcoming games."
Although the Cardinals next two games after the West Middlesex match are against conference foes Howland and Struthers, they also have a few non-conference tilts set in early February.
The Cards got a head start on those out of league affairs Jan. 21 when they hosted Campbell. Canfield romped the Red Devils 77-59 in a game that was never in doubt after the first quarter. A reason for the big win was free throw shooting as Canfield hit 26 of 36 charity tosses. Vrabel hit 8 of 11 from the line and finished with a game-high 22 points. He also captured 14 rebounds. Cole Pryjma and Brady Clark each scored a dozen points.
"We had a tough six game stretch where we went 5-1," he said. "We will carry that into the rest of these games to get us ready for the tournament."