By Doug Chapin
Ryan Frantz scored 31 points for the Red Dragons.
NILES — Tuesday night’s trip to Niles had “trap game” written all over it for the Canfield High boys basketball team.
Coming off a huge win over arch-rival Poland, the Cardinals traveled on a school night to face a .500 team with a prolific scorer and a penchant for playing tough in their own gym.
Despite a 10-2 record entering the game, those factors spelled trouble for Canfield, but the Cardinals were able to prevail 69-63 in the All-American Conference Red Division game, overcoming an eight-point first-half deficit and a 31-point performance by Niles guard Ryan Frantz.
“They have made it painfully aware over the years that if you’re not ready to go down here you’re going to get it handed to you,” Canfield coach John Cullen said. “It’s happened to us several times. This is one of the hardest places to win in the conference.
“They are a .500 team and maybe haven’t played as well as they expected to this year, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. They’ve got eight seniors and a lot of experience. When it clicks in, and tonight Frantz made everybody a better player, they’re tough to beat.”
“We know we’re capable of playing with them,” Niles coach Rick Kover said. “For three quarters we played just as good if not better.
“We made some bad mistakes tonight that put us in a situation where we just couldn’t come back from it. They are a very good basketball team, and this is a tough one to take.”
Frantz shot 11-for-18 through the first three quarters as Niles (7-7, 1-2 AAC Red) surged ahead early, holding leads of 15-7 and 20-12 before Canfield rallied for a 31-31 halftime tie.
The home team led 49-47 with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter, but the Cards (11-2, 3-0 AAC Red) ran off 13 straight points and led 60-49 with about five minutes left to play.
Niles had one more run left and closed to within 64-62 with 52 seconds remaining on a 3-pointer by Nick Young who scored 10 on the night. Canfield made five-of-eight free throws the rest of the way to clinch the win.
“They did a very good job of trying to spread us out a little bit and take away our transition game with their 3-2 zone,” Cullen said. “Toward the end of the half we started to get some better shots, and we did a better job in the second half, but it took us a little while to adjust to it. We haven’t seen zone for awhile.”
Canfield had great scoring balance, getting 17 points from Mike Podolsky, 16 from Gene Wollet, 15 from Dan Campolito and 13 from Justin Vrabel.
Wollet grabbed seven rebounds and he, Podolsky and Vrabel recorded four assists apiece.
Cory Floyd had nine points and seven rebounds for Niles.
“The game plan was working, we had two really good practices with it,” Kover said. “The kids really understood what we wanted them to do and when we did that, we executed very well. I think when we got away from our offense we weren’t able to reel them back in into running it again.
“Our defense was sound. That hasn’t always been the case, but tonight we played very good defense. I think we rebounded well, especially in the first half. And that’s the key against a team like Canfield. If you limit them to one shot each possession then you’ve got a shot to beat them.”
Canfield changed things up defensively late in the game, double-teaming Frantz and holding him to one-for-five shooting in the final quarter.
“We trapped a little bit down the stretch, trying to turn him into a passer rather than a shooter,” Cullen said. “We got a few turnovers and I think that got us going in the other direction.
“He just needs a crack in the door to get things doing. We probably should have gone to that a little earlier to get him out of his rhythm.”