Young lineup produces a 56-35 victory over Howland in the MAC.
CANFIELD -- With three freshmen in the starting lineup, the future looks bright for the Canfield High girls basketball team.
In the meantime, the present isn't too bad either.
Freshmen Bryanne Halfhill and Kate Popovec combined for 29 points and senior Stephanie Zunic added 11, as the Cardinals claimed a convincing 56-35 victory over Howland on Wednesday night.
Most young teams struggle as they go through growing pains, gaining experience and adjusting to varsity basketball. But Canfield's youth movement has been a quick study, and the youngsters are playing like veterans at the critical point of the season.
"They are good athletes, they work hard and they want to learn and that makes it fun," said Canfield coach Pat Pavlansky. "It's not just the freshmen, though. We have new people in every role on this team. We keep getting better and better."
The Cardinals' schedule has been one of the toughest in the Valley. In addition to playing perennial Metro Athletic Conference powers Salem and Poland twice each, Canfield's slate includes four state-ranked teams -- North Canton Hoover, Regina, West Branch and Boardman.
All five of Canfield's losses came against those state-ranked teams, including one to league-leading Salem.
"We play a brutal schedule," said Pavlansky. "But that is preparing us for this part of the season and the tournament. We played well tonight and are progressing. We're just looking to get to that next level."
Canfield (9-5, 5-1 MAC) had little trouble finding its game against Howland (10-5, 5-4). The Cardinals trailed just once, at 6-5, before taking command with a 12-2 run to finish the first quarter with a 17-8 advantage.
Popovec scored eight of her 12 points in the opening quarter, dominating in the paint. Halfhill, meanwhile, tallied nine of her game-high 17 points in the first half from her guard position.
"This was really a breakout game offensively for Bryanne," said Pavlansky. "She really showed that she understands the offense and that was good for everyone tonight. We really took some good shots and when we do that we're going to score some points."
The Cardinals outscored the Tigers 19-8 in the third quarter, extending a 12-point halftime lead to a 47-24 advantage.
Canfield, which defeated Howland 48-44 in the teams' earlier meeting, led this one by as many as 25 in the fourth quarter.
"We're getting better and we just want to concentrate on one game at a time and hope to steal a win over Lake in that first tournament game," said Pavlansky. "I'm really happy with how the kids are playing right now."