When the Canfield boys basketball team lost by one point to archrival Poland earlier this month lack of rebounding was a major problem.
At that time, Canfield head coach Todd Muckleroy felt that correcting that disparity on the boards would be an easy fix for his kids. The Cardinals once again started banging the boards and that helped get them back into the win column. Four wins in a row to end the regular season gave Canfield an 18-4 record and some much needed momentum heading into the Division II state tournament.
The first two victories in that four game span were achieved with relative ease, but the final two wins over Liberty and Salem, were much tougher to earn. Canfield tamed the Leopards 60-48 Feb. 19 before coming back to quiet the Quakers 63-55 a couple nights later. Coach Muckleroy admitted after the Salem game he didn't think his team would soar to every season ending victory so he wasn't shocked at how pesky those last pair of opponents were.
Photos by Cindy DeRose
Canfield Senior Brady Clark gets around Salem defender Ryan Hoover in varsity boys action last week. The Cards went on to win the game 63-55
''I didn't expect these games to be easy,'' said Muckleroy, ''but I would have liked them to be a little less challenging. I told the kids that there aren't any 20-point wins at this time of the year.''
In the Cardinals' 12-point win over the Leopards, 34 Canfield rebounds was the stat of the game. Liberty played Canfield tough throughout on its home court, but the Leopards' inability to box out the bigger Cardinals denied them the chance at many second shot opportunities. Meanwhile, Canfield was accumulating more than a couple put back chances off of many of its missed shots. Also, the Cardinals got fouled a lot on their second chances enabling them to pile up points on the foul line.
''We did the right things at the right time,'' said Muckleroy. ''Liberty is a tough team with a great player in Asim Pleas (who scored 23 points). He posed some problems for us.''
Posing problems for the Cardinals were Andrew Midgley who lobbed in 18 points versus Liberty. Cole Pryjma put in 17 for Canfield. Jarret Vrabel had 14 points and a dozen of his team's rebounds.
It took until the fourth quarter for Canfield to pull away from the upset-minded Leopards and it seemed like dej vu for the Cardinals on Friday night against Salem. The 7-15 Quakers moved the ball around well and hit some timely shots in the first half as they built a 27-21 halftime lead. Coach Muckleroy felt as if his team lacked the energy needed in the first half to quickly dispose of the undermanned Quakers. Thanks to some halftime adjustments, Muckleroy's men came out a little fresher in the third period and were able to finally ascend into the lead when Mike Yourstowsky nailed a three-pointer, his only bucket of the game, with a little more than two minutes left in the third. That clutch triple started a 30-16 run to end the game for the victorious home team.
''It was quite a battle with Salem,'' said Muckleroy. ''We knew we had to come out and have a strong second half and we did that.''
Midgley, Mason Mangapora and Brady Clark all reached double-figures for Canfield with 19, 17 and 11 respectively. Seven of Clark's eleven points came over the game's final few minutes.
Rebounding, solid free throw shooting and strong second half play will continue to be needed if the Cardinals are to advance out of the second round of the tournament. Canfield got a first round bye and will be able to host the winner of Niles/ Hubbard March 1. The Cardinals had great success against both schools this season, but Muckleroy is aware that whichever team takes the trip to Canfield this weekend will have a few tricks up its sleeve.
''We played each team twice so I'm sure they will have something different for us,'' Muckleroy said.
With eight days between the win over Salem and the tournament tilt there will be plenty of time for the Cards to work out some kinks and, more importantly, convalesce.
''We'll take some time to heal up,'' explained Muckleroy at the beginning of the week. ''Early in the week our practices will be like mid terms then the final exam will come Thursday when we know who we are playing.''
So far, Muckleroy's club has passed mostly all its tests this season. A perfect score the next few weeks will have the Cardinals taking exams at the Final Four.