By Ryan Buck
Canfield High boys basketball coach Todd Muckleroy had an inkling his team would not be at its best Tuesday night.
All of the fleeting highs from their big win last Friday at Poland had to be erased once and for all, as Alliance rolled into Canfield’s James W. Watkins Gymnasium. The Aviators took control of the game early, never trailed, and led by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on a Cardinals team still basking in victory.
“When you think about the mental side of this game, it’s tough to overcome sometimes when you do come off a big win against Poland,” said Muckleroy following the 59-57 victory. “Then you have to get back up for a non-conference game. As coaches, we tried to really get them up. It’s a natural instinct to be like that. We’ve seen it through the history of sports.”
It may have taken 26 minutes to regain their focus, but it came at the right time.
The Cardinals (10-1) clawed back to within one at 53-52 with eight seconds remaining in the fourth. After Alliance guard JJ Kukura sank a pair of free throws, Canfield needed a 3-pointer to send it to overtime.
Cue Andrew Midgley. Point guard Cole Pryjma’s chest pass found the 6-foot-4 forward alone on the left wing. His spot-up 3-point jumper fell true as the buzzer sounded, tying the score at 55.
“That wasn’t even designed for me,” said Midgley. “We had a double ball screen up top for Cole and he just kicked it back to me. It was kind of just a ‘chuck’ really. Emotions were flaring, but we had another quarter to play.”
The action in the four-minute overtime resembled little of the back-and-forth pace of the fourth quarter. Pryjma sank one of two free throws to put Canfield ahead 56-55 with 3:53 to go. Kordelle Phillips’ lay-in gave Alliance (7-4) a one-point lead with three minutes left.
Midgley then hit another big shot: a turn-around jumper in the lane to take back the lead at 58-57 with just over two minutes left.
Marco DeLorenzo, who paced Canfield in the Poland win, made the game’s biggest defensive play with 45 seconds on the clock.
After a Canfield turnover, Alliance guard Zaviay Thomas had an open lane to the Canfield basket and a sure lead. DeLorenzo, a senior, came from behind to swat the shot away and preserve the lead.
“That’s just working and hustling to get back on ‘D,’” DeLorenzo said. “I was just trying to make a play.”
After free throw troubles and another stop with less than 15 seconds left, Conner Kesner split a pair of free throws to give the Cardinals the victory.
“That’s the biggest win up to this point,” Muckleroy said of the triumph at Poland. “When you look at it in retrospect now, this is the biggest game we’ve played because we’ve got to prove we can still win games after that one. I’d rather it be this way than the alternative.”