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Cardinals trying to get better as tournament approaches

February 20, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

A three-game winning streak had Canfield's boys basketball team feeling good about themselves as the regular season started winding down.

Despite a 63-41 setback at Boardman's Senior Night last Friday, the Canfield clan is motivated to make the most of its opportunity in the upcoming state tournament. Fifth-seeded Canfield will host number 12 Salem on Feb. 26 in the opener of the Division II Youngstown District. Head coach Todd Muckleroy was staying cautious when discussing his club's showdown with Salem, but you could tell there was some anticipation in his voice.

"It's exciting to think about the tournament," Muckleroy said. "We're concentrating on one game at a time and putting our players in the best position possible. As a coaching staff we will try to expose Salem's weaknesses to get the outcome we desire."

It was the host Spartans that exposed Canfield's weaknesses in the two rivals' rematch. Boardman also beat up the Cardinals 63-39 on Jan. 18. The Spartans pretty much played the same nearly flawless game in round two. Thanks to dominating defense, the home team held Canfield to just two points at the start of the game. The Cardinals could only muster 16 points total over the first 16 minutes, which was their lowest output in one half all year.

"(Boardman's) defense is really good," said Muckleroy. "We had some shots that didn't fall and some empty possessions in the opening period. When you miss too many shots against a good team, they'll burn you."

Conor Crogan was burning hot for the Cardinals against Boardman with a team-high 10 points. Joe Bruno buried two three-pointers on his way to eight points.

The previous four games were much more successful for Muckleroy's men. Canfield took the measure of Austintown Fitch, Ashtabula Lakeside and Howland in three All American Conference clashes. Their 65-45 blowout of the Tigers at home on Feb. 8 pushed the Cardinals' record above .500 in the Red Tier.

That mini successful streak was stunted on Feb. 12 when Canfield went out of conference and fell to mighty Uniontown Lake 63-54. The Cardinals only trailed 55-52 with three minutes remaining in the game. A layup by Bruno brought the Cardinals to within a point. Lake's efficient 8 for 8 performance from the foul line in the waning moments, however, ended Canfield's comeback bid.

"We could have made some plays down the stretch, but didn't," Muckleroy said. "You have to make plays against a good team (like Lake)."

Crogan made as many plays as he possibly could scoring 19 points. Kyle Gamble grabbed 14 points. Aydin Hanousek was the third Canfield player in double figures with 10 points.

Only an out of league match with Alliance stands between Canfield and its postseason opener with the 5-15 Quakers in the sectional. Salem has only won three games since the start of the 2019 calendar year. Still, Canfield's coach knows that his squad will need to play more like they have during that triumphant three game stretch at the beginning of February than it has in back-to-back setbacks to Lake and Boardman.

"We are tweaking and perfecting what we feel is best for our team," Muckleroy said. "Fundamentals tend to be the X-factor during championship moments when games are decided in the last couple of minutes. It's a win or go home mentality (during the tournament) and we are not ready to go home yet."



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