Firestone, Baker spark Canfield past Struthers
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CANFIELD -- Canfield High boys basketball coach John Cullen had a hunch that Tuesday night's closely-fought game against Struthers would be decided by the team that could put together a break-away scoring run.
"I figured that the team that got on a scoring streak would win. And I was hoping it was us," said Cullen, whose Cardinals did just that but with two scoring spurts, and then held off the Wildcats to win, 50-41, in the Metro Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
But what Cullen didn't figure on was Matt Firestone coming off the bench to become the catalyst of Canfield's eight-point run to start the final quarter that put the Cardinals in a 40-29 driver's seat, after Struthers had gotten as close as 30-29 late in the third quarter.
"[Firestone] came off the bench. He hadn't been shooting very well but he hit two 3s in a row," said Cullen of Firestone's two 3-point goals that sandwiched Pat Bellish' basket for the eight-point run and the 11-point lead.
The rally actually was a 10-point run that started with Matt Keating's two foul shots to end the third-quarter scoring for Canfield's 32-29 lead.
"[Firestone is] one of our better shooters but [he just hasn't been scoring]. But he did a nice job. He started it [the rally]. I'm hoping this will get his [shooting] rhythm going," said Cullen, noting that Firestone started the game but then went to the bench.
But even with Firestone's rally, Struthers didn't quit and recovered behind leaders Matt Kukura and Josh Vlosich to surge back into contention, 40-34.
Baker also delivers
However, Canfield (5-1, 1-0 MAC) streaked again with a 9-2 run led by Sean Baker's three foul shots for a 49-36 lead to sew up the outcome.
"Baker controlled the game," said Cullen of his 6-foot-1 senior talent, who scored a game-high 19 points with seven assists to lead the Cardinals, while Joe Carbon, a 6-2 senior, added eight points and nine rebounds. Firestone, a 6-2 senior, finished with seven points.
Kukura, a 5-9 senior point guard, scored 15 points to lead Struthers while big-man Josh Vlosich, a 6-foot-5 senior, who got off with a strong start with three straight goals underneath that gave the Wildcats a 6-0 lead, eventually was held to only four more points to finish with 10.
"[Vlosich] got a little frustrated [against Canfield's defense]. They did a good job getting on him. They were very physical on him," said Struthers (4-2, 0-1 MAC) coach John Corey. "[Canfield's] emphasis was on Josh. They limited his touches [of the ball].
"They doubled-down [on him] and got their hands in the passing lanes."
Corey said they tried other ways to get Vlosich free, but none worked, including, "We tried to get him free on the outside on a reversal."
But Corey lauded his team's comeback and said that after pulling back within 40-34, that, "We made a couple of mistakes at the wrong time late in the game."
Also, "[Canfield] got a lot of loose balls."
Canfield defense glows
Cullen said that Canfield was fortunate to be able to find ways to contain both Kukura and Vlosich at key times in the game.
"He scored six out of the gate. We had to make it difficult for him and keep the ball away from him," said Cullen of Vlosich. "We did a nice job preventing passes intended for him. We [double-teamed] him a couple of times. He is able to go deep [under the hoop] and we had to prevent passes going to him because when he gets deep he can score."
Cullen also said his team was able to prevent Kukura from penetrating at critical times, which was another key to the win.
"When [Kukura] does that, he makes everyone better," said Cullen, referring to Kukura's passes during penetration that can set up scores underneath.