By STEVE WILAJ
For a split second, Niles players, coaches and fans alike celebrated a dramatic upset victory of Canfield on Friday.
And then they received the bad news.
With 2 seconds left and the Red Dragons clinging to a one-point lead, a foul was called in the corner of the court following a wild Cardinals offensive possession in which they came up empty.
Niles rejoiced. Canfield hung its heads.
The call: a loose ball foul on Chris Parry of the Red Dragons. Both sides were stunned.
“No idea. Go ask [the referees],” disgruntled Niles coach Ron Price said of the call. “Go ask them, because I don’t know what it was. I thought the foul was called on [Canfield], but it got switched.”
Following the controversial call, Canfield’s Cole Pryjma stepped to the line and nailed both free throws to give the Cardinals a 60-59 victory.
“I’m not going to lie, I was nervous because my free throws haven’t been the best lately,” Pryjma said. “I don’t even know why I was shooting, to be honest. I was at halfcourt when the foul was called.”
If anything, Parry appeared to foul Canfield’s Andrew Midgley during the final possession. Midgley missed his first shot, grabbed his rebound, then had the ball knocked away on a second shot attempt before eventually ending up on the ground during the scrum for the loose ball.
“He went up for the rebound and got hit. I think that’s what they called the foul on — a push,” said Pryjma, who finished with 16 points. “But they told me I was shooting so, I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you.”
The final foul call was preceded by a tightly contested fourth quarter in which Niles led most of the way. The Red Dragons (11-10) took a 57-53 lead with 1:14 remaining on two Parry free throws. But Canfield (16-5) cut it to 57-56 after a Brady Clark free throw and a Conner Kesner layup.
After a turnover by Niles’ Ray Russ (22 points), a layup by Midgley with 25.1 seconds left gave the Cardinals a 58-57 lead. However, two more free throws by Parry regained a 59-58 advantage for the Red Dragons.
That set the stage for the dramatic ending.
“The game was getting that way. You knew it was going to be that way — tight like that,” Canfield coach Todd Muckleroy said. “I can’t comment on the officials calls there, but it seemed to be kind of going both ways.
“Both teams were kind of frustrated a little bit about the calls that were made. I’m just glad we were certainly in the right situation to make plays and to squeeze it out at the end.”
Getting off to a quick start, Canfield jumped out to a 30-23 halftime lead.
But behind three 3-pointers by Justin Lopes (14 points), Niles used a 17-7 third quarter advantage to take a 40-37 lead into the final period.
“Unfortunately other factors helped determine the game, but we’ll move on,” Price said. “I’m proud of the kids. They fought hard. It was a heck of a battle. Just a great game.”