With the Division II state tournament less than three weeks away, the time is now for the Canfield boys basketball team to play its best ball of the season.
A less than remarkable shooting and rebounding night by Canfield, and an enormous defensive play by Poland in the waning seconds, sent the Cardinals to their fourth defeat Feb. 7.
The 50-49 loss was a setback for the Canfield kids, but head coach Todd Muckleroy took it in stride.
Photos by Mike Capps, Town Crier correspondent
Canfield junior guard Mike Yourstowsky comes off the edge looking to pass the ball during the first period against arch rival Poland Feb. 7. Canfield came up short 50-49.
"It was disappointing," he said, "but overall I'm proud of how the kids played. The game could have been over one-and-half minutes into the game, but the kids kept plugging away."
Muckleroy's boys took it hard to the 15-2 Bulldogs on their home floor. Canfield kept control for most of the first three periods before falling behind by one point early in the fourth quarter. With the game tied and less than five seconds remaining, Canfield's Cole Pryjma was stripped by Poland's Jared Burkert who was subsequently fouled on the play. Burkert nailed a pair of free throws then teammate Nick Gajdos hit two more charity tosses thanks to an intentional foul. Those four free tosses gave the Bulldogs a four-point lead. A last gasp long three-pointer by Canfield's Brady Clark ended the game closer than it really was. That steal by Burkert was indicative of that little extra effort displayed by the home team.
"(Poland) made the last play the most important play, and that's where it counts," Muckleroy said. "We missed some shots that if we hit it could have been a different game."
The contest could have also flipped in Canfield's direction if the Cardinals would have done something they normally do very well, and that is rebound. Poland outrebounded the bigger Canfield kids 37-22 with 22 of those boards coming on the offensive end. That is a number not lost on Canfield's coach.
"We were definitely surprised when it was happening," Muckleroy said. "It's not something I'm worried about (for the rest of the season). It's an easy fix."
Jarret Vrabel tried all he could to fix things for Canfield with 12 rebounds. He also had 10 points. Mike Yourstowsky led the Cardinals in scoring with 11 points. Andrew Midgley also reached double figures with 10 points.
Despite the disheartening defeat at the hands of their arch nemesis, the Cardinals still sit 10 games above .500 and are in a good position to make noise in the playoffs. Canfield's final four games are against West Branch, Niles, Liberty and Salem, and if the Cards do advance to the real Final Four in March, it may be because they had such a brutal final quartet of games.
"Three of those four teams will be tough tournament teams," Muckleroy said. "Those will be really good matchups for us."
The one game to keep an eye on is the one against Niles this weekend because it could be a practice game for a tournament tilt. Canfield, who has a first round tournament bye, will play the winner of the Niles versus Hubbard opening round game. With the Red Dragons a favorite to eliminate the Eagles, a third tussle between the Cardinals and Dragons may take place on March 1 with the loser packing up their uniforms for the offseason.