Howland grabs share of league lead, 52-39
The Tigers handed Canfield its first loss in the MAC.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
HOWLAND -- The only thing lighter than John Diehl's heart Wednesday night was his wallet.
Before the biggest games of each season, the Howland High girls basketball coach promises to treat his team to dinner if it wins.
"It'll probably cost me 150 tonight," Diehl said after his team's 52-39 victory over Canfield. "But that's OK."
It was a milestone win for a couple reasons.
First, the Tigers hadn't beaten Canfield since the 2002-03 season, a span of seven games (if you count the tournament).
"This was the last chance for the seniors," said junior Alexa Williams, who played one of the best games of her career in compiling 17 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. "We worked all year for this."
Second, it was a convincing win against the 14th-ranked team in Division I.
"It was at least our best win since beating Bethel Park," said Diehl, referring to a 40-28 win in late December.
Third, Howland (13-2, 8-1) needs only to win out to earn a share of the Metro Athletic Conference title.
"It's the only day of the year where I didn't have to look at my watch to know the date," said Diehl, whose team is ranked 12th in Division II in the latest poll. "This was a very important game for us."
Started out quickly
And, from the start, the Tigers played like it.
On Jan. 4 (the last time the two teams met), Canfield's defense was too tough for the Tigers, holding Howland to its lowest total of the season in a 33-28 win. On Wednesday, the Tigers had 29 points by halftime, entering the locker room with a 29-19 lead.
It would have been worse, but in the closing seconds of the second quarter, Canfield's Katie Luklan chucked in a desperation 3-pointer just a few feet past half-court, giving the Cardinals a much-needed lift.
"How many times have you seen it where a team throws it in just before halftime and they go into the locker room with the momentum?" said Diehl. "But we went in there still feeling positive about the half."
Cards rally falls short
The Tigers stretched the lead to 16 (43-27) midway through the third before Canfield scored the final eight points of the quarter. The Cardinals (12-2, 8-1) were within six (45-39) with four minutes left in the game, but didn't score again.
"They put us in a hole," said Canfield coach Pat Pavlansky. "It put us in a position where things had to be perfect for us to come back. If we had played a little better in the first half, maybe we wouldn't have had to be as perfect."
Ellie Shields, a Kent State recruit, added 17 points, Carly Sabat had 10 and Melissa Airhart had eight points and five assists for the Tigers. Howland's ball movement was terrific all night -- the Tigers had assists on 17 of their 20 field goals -- and Williams and Shields looked like a duo that had been playing together for three years.
"Since I play the post too, I can tell when she's going to be open," Williams said of Shields. "We sense each other."
Added Pavlansky, "We usually play good post defense and tonight we didn't do that."
Kate Popovec had 13 points and Bryanne Halfhill added 11 for the Cardinals, whose only other loss came against North Canton Hoover. Hoover is also the only other team to beat Howland.
"Hopefully we can take the way we played in the second half and apply to the games ahead," said Pavlansky. "We have a lot of big games in the future. This isn't the end of our season."