By Joe Scalzo
In the last minute of Friday’s game, Canfield junior Jarret Vrabel hit a baseline jumper that looked easy but was deceptively difficult.
Kind of like beating Howland.
In a game that featured five lead changes in the final four minutes, Vrabel’s shot proved to be the biggest as the Cardinals survived a frantic finish to beat the Tigers, 67-64, in an All-American Conference American Division game.
“I was squirming [on the sideline] because you often wonder how a young group like this is going to respond to a little bit of adversity,” said Cardinals coach Todd Muckleroy. “I’m happy with what I saw. We could have made some smarter plays down the stretch but at the same time they’re gutty kids and that’s a good thing to see.”
Canfield (6-1, 2-0) seemed to have the game in hand midway through the third quarter when it took an eight-point lead, 43-35. But Howland finished on a 12-2 run to set up a back-and-forth fourth.
Evan Steele made a huge 3-pointer with 50 seconds left that gave Howland its last lead, 64-63, before Vrabel answered with his jumper on the other end.
“Those baseline shots from 6 to 8 feet away, those are tough shots,” said Muckleroy. “He has a lot of confidence to take that shot and I have a lot of confidence in him to take that shot.
“I’m just glad he made it.”
Howland senior Brendan Cope missed a turnaround jumper inside on the other end and Canfield guard Cole Pryjma (aka “the smallest guy on the court”) somehow grabbed the rebound under the basket. After Pryjma made a pair of free throws with 6.7 seconds left, Cope threw the inbound pass to halfcourt, where Arbie Murray snagged it and threw it John-Mark Weisman, who airballed a last-gasp 3-pointer.
“I think tonight we showed a lot of passion to win a basketball game,” said Howland coach Bill Bogan. “We need a win right now, but you know what? We can walk away pleased that we’re on the right track.
“If we can play Canfield that close, we ought to be able to play with anybody in our league.”
Weisman finished with 21 points for the Tigers (1-7, 1-2), who were missing seniors Chris Maze and De’Veon Smith and lost junior Ross Griffin to a knee injury early on. But Cope (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Murray (17 points) stepped up to nearly pull the upset.
Canfield, meanwhile, got a career-best 21 points from Andrew Midgley along with 17 from Pryjma and 16 from Vrabel, who also had eight rebounds.
“We fouled too much in the third quarter — I think we had seven fouls, which was very bad — but we made our free throws and we hit shots and got stops at the end,” Midgley said. “I think we need some recognition after this one. We’re not getting anything, so maybe you could get the word out for us?”
This much is clear: The Cardinals made a believer out of one person on Friday.
“We’ve won some games by large margins,” Muckleroy said. “Now I know we can stay competitive in the close ones, too.”