By Steve Wilaj
During his four years as Canfield High’s boys basketball coach, Todd Muckleroy has come to terms with the fact that his Cardinals — records aside — are always in for a battle against Niles.
“That’s just the way this rivalry has kind of been established in my time here,” he said.
Most recently, Canfield gutted out a five-point win against the Red Dragons on Jan. 10. And in last season’s second matchup, Niles played the Cardinals to the final possession, ending in a controversial Canfield victory.
In turn, the Cardinals certainly weren’t going to overlook Saturday’s matchup with the Red Dragons.
“Our ears were perked a little bit,” Muckleroy said. “We wanted to come out and have a good showing knowing full well that Niles is going to bring everything they could at us since they always have.”
With that focus, there was little drama to the latest episode between the two teams, as Canfield easily disposed of Niles, 74-47.
“We didn’t play well tonight and they played well, so that combination turns out to what happened,” said Ron Price, Red Dragons coach. “They got a lot of easy ones with their size, and if they’re going to hit 3s, it’s a good combination for them.”
Both teams started hot, leading to a 19-14 score after the first quarter. But Canfield (16-4, 9-3) outscored the Red Dragons 55-33 the rest of the way, slicing up Niles’ zone defense.
“We made the adjustment to look inside when we reverse the ball out of their zone,” Muckleroy said. “Our big guys were doing a great job of sealing the backside of the zone, making good catches and getting good finishes.”
As a result, the Canfield frontline of Jarret Vrabel and Andrew Midgley paced the Cardinals. Vrabel scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Midgley added 13 points and pulled down a game-high 14 boards.
Brady Clark also scored 12 points for Canfield, which held Niles (8-12, 5-7) to 35 percent shooting.
“We really wanted to take away their long ball opportunities because they were shooting it well early,” Muckleroy said. “I think our defense kind of wore them down by the second half.”
Marcus Hill led Niles with 13 points while Kyle Paden added nine.
“Unfortunately we didn’t come to play — we didn’t give them a game,” Price said. “But we just have to prepare next week for Friday and Saturday and get ready for the tournament. We’ll use this as a write-off game.”
There is a chance Niles and Canfield can meet again in the Division II sectional finals if each wins its first games.
“If we do, we can’t think it’s gonna be that easy again,” Muckleroy said. “I know they’re gonna come back and make adjustments, so we’ll have to be ready because they’ll be a much different team.”