By BILL SNIER
They had to go through everyone’s Cinderella story in the semifinals. Then, it was dealing with an intimidating crowd and a hot team in their final match.
But the team that nobody at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl thought could do it — the Canfield Cardinals — can be called state champions today.
In its first-ever state appearance, Canfield went from the No. 4 seed following qualifying to a 3-1 title-match victory over No. 3 seed Kettering Fairmont to claim the state title Saturday.
“This is just awesome. These kids never gave up. I don’t know what else I can add to that,” Canfield coach Carl Hurd said. “They deserved everything they got today.”
It started during the qualifying round, with junior Paul Harris leading the Cardinals with a 643 series, third-place overall and first-team All-Ohio status. Then came senior Mike Dercoli with 590 and freshman Andrew Letscher with 572, after his 698 helped Canfield finish second at last week’s Northeast District tournament.
And it was sophomore Ben Shoman, who had 540 Saturday, but his 813 led the Cardinals at district.
“We’ve made it several years in a row out of sectionals to district, but we would have a hard time because we couldn’t match up with the lanes,” Hurd said. “Last year, we had a decent solid five, but we had some issues late in the season. This year, we picked up a freshman who is a solid player and he helped put us over the hump.”
After a three-game sweep of Maysville in their opening match, the Cardinals had to stop Cinderella No. 1 seed Fairport Harding, the smallest school in the field which beat Canfield by 38 pins for last week’s district title.
After taking a 2-0 lead, the Skippers rallied to tie the match. But Canfield put together a 257 in its final game to advance.
“Our guys needed to realize they could do it,” Hurd said. “They had to take it a frame at a time.”
In the title match with Fairmont, the Cardinals started with 206, but slumped to 143 on the “bad” lane in Game 2. Then, they had to deal with a very boisterous Fairmont crowd.
“That’s where the mental game comes into play I think,” Hurd said. “I think we blocked it out very well.
“We actually had the luck of the draw there. The other team chose to start on Lane 28, and I thought that was the bad lane. I thought whoever found it first was going to win. We did that in Game 4.”
After taking Game 3 190-180, the Cardinals caught a break when Fairmont left a 4-7-10 split in the 10th frame. Letscher then closed it out for a 200-167 win and the title.
“We are not a team of bowlers,” Hurd said. “A couple of them may bowl out the season, but most of them will put their stuff away until October. But from October on, they are very dedicated.
“There wasn’t a team here other than ourselves that thought we were going to win this. These guys earned it.”
FITCH, CHAMPION FALL SHORT
Both Austintown Fitch and Champion also made the cut to the final eight, but both were eliminated in their opening matches.
The Falcons, two-time state champions before the sport went OHSAA during the 2006-07 season, fell behind 2-0 in their match with Fairmont before rallying to take Game 3. But the state runner-up advanced in Game 4 with a 248-164 win.
“It’s hard. I have five seniors that I really care about and they were really working hard,” said Fitch coach Dino Balkan, whose team made the final four a year ago. “They wanted to win this so badly.”
The Falcons, who were five pins out of the cut after two games but gained the No. 6 seed, were led by junior Kyle Sharisky, who earned honorable mention All-Ohio with a 610 series. Junior Kyle Condrick added 569.
Sophomore Jared Gould led the Flashes, earning second-team All-Ohio with a 625 series. Junior Zach Zigmont added 583.