Armed with seven wins out of its final eight games, the Canfield High School girls basketball team entered the Division I state tournament with plenty of confidence.
Canfield's girls were seeded fourth in the Akron SVSM District and had plenty of time to iron out any deficiencies in its play thanks to a first-round bye. Unfortunately, when the Lady Cardinals took the court Feb. 23 at home in the sectional final versus No. 6 seed Walsh Jesuit, none of the favorable things mentioned above mattered.
The Cardinals scored only nine points in the first half as they suffered through one of their poorest performances this winter. Walsh wasn't very spectacular shooting the ball either, but it did just enough to end Canfield's season with a 38-26 victory.
"I told (the girls after the game) that we picked a bad time to play our worst game of the year," Canfield head coach Matt Reel said.
Both teams were equally inept in the first quarter as the Lady Warriors took an 8-7 lead. A 10-2 run by the Warriors in the second period put the visitors ahead, 18-9, at halftime.
That embarrassing eight minutes was the Cardinals' worst quarter this year. Things didn't improve much for the Canfield ladies after halftime either.
Walsh went ahead by a dozen points when it outscored Canfield, 10-7, in the third period. Although the fourth quarter was played to a 10-10 tie, the Cardinals' inability to mount an offensive attack during the previous three quarters of the game put a cap on their season.
Senior Brittany Coonce, playing in her final high school game, scored eight points to help pace the Cardinals. Sophomore guard Serena Sammarone also scored eight points.
Alexandra Stanic was the other Cardinal senior who saw action in the sectional and scored a basket in her career finale.
The varsity Cardinals ended the season 14-8 overall and 9-3 in the All-American Conference Red Tier, placing third below Austintown Fitch (17-6, 9-3) and Howland (19-6, 10-2).
Despite seeing the season sail away after one chance in the sectional round of the tournament, Reel remained optimistic when reflecting on the 2016-17 season.
"One game does not define a season," he said. "We grew a lot individually and as a team this season. Last-second wins versus South Range and Boardman would be highlights along with our team finishing the regular season 13-3 in our last 16 games."
The good news is that many of the team's 14 wins this year were made possible by underclassmen. One of Canfield's top players is Sammarone, who will be a junior next winter.
Ashley Veneroso and Emerson Fletcher both played important minutes against the Warriors and will be counted upon to help lead the club as seniors next year.
Jill Baker is another junior who will be in a senior leadership role in 2017-18. Freshman frontcourt force Grace Mangapora played plenty in her first varsity year and should be even better as a sophomore.
With a little more seasoning of some of the sophomores and freshmen who were on the verge of varsity action this season, this Canfield club may be ready to stay around a little longer in next February's sectional round.
No. 6 Walsh Jesuit advanced to Monday's district semifinal vs. No. 1 Canton McKinley at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, where the Warriors fell to the Bulldogs, 66-26.