Canfield rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Poland, 54-51, in overtime.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CANFIELD -- During a crucial possession late in the second half of Friday's game against Poland, Canfield High basketball coach John Cullen called timeout and instructed his team to drain the clock, forcing the Bulldogs to play defense for a long time before setting up a backdoor pass for an easy score.
"We knew they [Poland] were tired and you get more tired playing defense than offense," Cullen said.
Instead, Canfield senior Sean Baker drove the ball in, got fouled and made two free throws.
The moral? Sometimes in big games, the best player on the floor decides to take over. And Cullen knows enough to let him.
"He has a sixth sense for when to make a play," Cullen said.
Added Poland coach Ken Grisdale, "The Baker kid deserves a lot of credit. He made the difference."
After a lackluster first three quarters -- both for Baker and the Cardinals -- Canfield found itself trailing by 10 (37-27) early in the fourth quarter.
But thanks to eight points by Baker in the quarter, the Cardinals outscored Poland 16-6 down the stretch to force overtime, then took care of business in the extra period to win 54-51 in a terrific Metro Athletic Conference game in front of a packed house at Canfield High School. (The gym was so full, the fire marshall forced Canfield officials to start turning people away a half-hour before the varsity game started.)
The game brought back memories of Canfield's come-from-behind win over Poland during the football season -- and in case anyone had forgotten it, the Cardinals' student section was happy to remind them -- and Baker even credited that game, along with a close loss to Pickerington Central in the playoffs, as motivation for the basketball season.
"We learned in football that if there's time left, anything can happen," said Baker, who finished with a game-high 17 points (including 15 after halftime) to go along with seven rebounds, two assists and five steals. "You knew in this game, it was going to be a dogfight to the end."
Baker even had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds of the fourth, but his jumper near the foul line went in and out.
"I thought it was [in]," he said.
Poland's struggles down the stretch were a combination of several factors, including sloppy ballhandling (the Bulldogs turned the ball over on five of their last seven possessions in the fourth quarter) and foul trouble (Canfield was in the bonus for most of the fourth and Poland's Charlie Carchedi fouled out late in the quarter).
Keys to the game
But two other things stick out. One, Canfield did a better job stopping Poland's 6-foot-8 center Lou Coppola in the second half. (Canfield senior Pat Bellish gets credit for that).
"Coach told me to take his outside corner and in the first half, I wasn't listening," Bellish said of guarding Coppola. "In the second half, I did it."
Two, the Bulldogs (10-2, 6-2), unlike Canfield (11-2, 7-1), didn't take advantage of their free throw opportunities, making just 1 of 7 for the game. Canfield, meanwhile, made 13 of 20 and 19 of those attempts came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"We work a lot on getting kids in the right frame of mind when they're shooting free throws," Cullen said. "It's like golf, the most important thing is your mental state just before you hit the ball.
"You'll notice that none of them looked nervous. They expected them to go in."
Bellish made 6 of his 7 attempts -- all of them came in the game's final five minutes -- and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
"Pat's not really an offensive threat, but he did a great job down low tonight," said Baker. "He totally dominated inside."
Coppola finished with 14 points and five rebounds for the Bulldogs, who now trail Campbell and Canfield by a game in the league standings.
Chris Lovell added 12 points and Ben Umbel had seven points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Poland's only two losses this season are in overtime. The last time it lost two games in overtime came in 2001-02.
As omen's go, that's not a bad one, because something interesting happened that season.
"We ended up going to Columbus," Grisdale said.