Despite eight regular season losses, a starting lineup lacking any seniors and an eighth seed in the Division I state tournament, the Lady Cardinals took the sectional round by storm and upset once beaten Austintown Fitch.
Then Canfield upended a very talented Uniontown Green team to dance into the district finals. That is where the dancing ended for the Cardinals. Top-seeded 23-2 North Canton Hoover sucked all of the magic out of the Canfield ladies in a 76-34 victory last Friday night at Walsh University. Canfield finished the season 16-9 overall.
Eight turnovers in the first quarter by the underdog Cardinals allowed the Lady Vikings to vault to a 10-0 run. Seven more fumbles in the first half forced Canfield into a hole it could never dig itself out from. Hoover led by 19 points at halftime and not even the hot shooting of junior Rachel Tinkey could save the Cardinals' season. Tinkey ended her campaign as the team's leading scorer aided by her 18-point effort against heavily favored Hoover. Beating the Vikings would have been a remarkable feat for Canfield that is why head coach Pat Pavlansky remained upbeat after the season ending loss.
''(Hoover) is a great team,'' Pavlansky said. ''This was a great learning experience for us and should be a great building block for next season.''
Pavlansky's club laid a great foundation in rounds one and two of the tournament. The playoffs started Feb. 20 with Canfield springing a major surprise. The Cardinals avenged two regular season losses to Fitch and sent the 21-2 Lady Falcons packing a lot earlier than they expected with a 53-45 triumph. Coach Pavlansky's game plan was to attack the athletic Lady Falcons more than perhaps any other team did this season. That strategy worked successfully as the Cardinals broke open a close game with a 19-12 second quarter run. Canfield was able to keep its advantage in the second half and although the Falcons fought back to cut the Cardinals' lead to 48-43 late in the fourth period, layups by Erin Risner and Tinkey towards the end secured the shocking victory. Risner led the Cardinals with 18 points and she had nine rebounds. Tinkey and Lynnae Whitehead would end up with 14 each. Whitehead also grabbed eight rebounds.
''It was a great win,'' said Pavlansky. ''The girls played a very good mental game throughout. They were very focused.''
That first round win may have shown Canfield's focus, but the victory a few days later over Green displayed the Cardinals' grittiness. A lackluster first twenty minutes by Canfield gave Green a 30-13 lead midway through the third quarter. At that point it seemed as if the Cardinals flipped some sort of switch and outscored the Lady Bulldogs 22-5 to force overtime. Trailing by 1-point late in the extra session, Canfield's Ashley Kaleel calmly sank a baseline jumper, her only basket of the game, with 11 seconds left to give her team a 39-38 advantage. Two Tinkey free throws gave Canfield an improbable 41-38 overtime victory.
''The girls never gave up even with the score 30-13 in the third quarter,'' Pavlansky said. ''What a great life lesson to learn when you are in high school.''