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Canfield captures opener, defeating West Branch

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Riley Tuel, left, of West Branch and Ryley Chambers of Canfield battle for a loose ball on Tuesday night in the Cardinals 48-31 victory at home.

CANFIELD — It’s always good to get the first one under your belt.

On Tuesday evening, the Canfield girls basketball team opened its season against West Branch, a team coming off a 48-33 victory over Garfield on Saturday and a trip to the state final four last season.

A strong defensive effort that limited the Warriors to just eight field goals helped guide Canfield past West Branch, 48-31, in the Cardinals’ season opener.

“It feels great. I think, as basketball coaches, all of us weren’t sure we’d get here,” Canfield coach Matt Reel said. “I was really proud of our performance, we had a lot of girls playing varsity for the first time, and we really got better as the game went on.”

It took until the 3:36 mark in the first quarter for the first field goal of the game to be made when Cardinals sophomore Abby Muckleroy hit a 3-pointer, but West Branch junior Sydney Mercer responded to make it a 4-3 game in favor of the Warriors.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Canfield’s Marissa Ieraci, right, takes the ball to the basket.

That was the only lead of the evening for West Branch.

“We’re a work in progress defensively, they did a lot of things that we haven’t seen before at the varsity level,” Reel said. “I was exceptionally pleased, I thought we got better as the game went on.

“We obviously have got to foul a lot less, but I thought a lot of that was just coming from effort and, once we do that a little bit better, I think we’ll be a really solid defensive team.”

Canfield held a 19-14 lead coming out of halftime, with junior Alyssa Dill scoring eight first half points, but the Cardinals outscored West Branch 18-11 during the third period to extend the lead.

Senior Marissa Ieraci nailed a pair of big 3-pointers to help push the lead into double figures.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes West Branch junior Anna Lippiatt (23) makes a move on offense Tuesday against Canfield.

“I was just making sure you do the basics, and make those opportunities when you can and take advantage of those opportunities when you can,” Ieraci said. “It’s the little things like that, that really push a team to get a lead.”

Down 37-25 going into the fourth quarter, the Warriors (1-1) went on a quick 5-0 run thanks to a converted and-1 by Mercer and a shot from senior Jillian Pidgeon to cut the deficit to single-figures. However, Canfield replied with an 8-0 run of its own, with Dill hitting a couple of important buckets down the stretch.

Dill, a 5-foot-11 forward, who averaged 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds a game last season, finished with a career-high 16 points in the winning effort.

“My teammates did a good job looking for me when I was open inside the post,” Dill said “Just trying to focus on finishing off of two feet.”

Reel thinks that Dill has a big season ahead of her.

“She’s still just a junior, and she’s in a new role,” he said. “She stepped up, made some shots, she’s one of those kids that spent a lot of time in the summer just working on her game, and I think that showed tonight.

“She’s a really special player, and she deserved it because she’s worked really hard.”

For Dill, taking game number one is key.

“Losing our first game kind of makes you slumped for the rest of the season, so I think it’s really important for us to go out and play as hard as we can for us first game, just to give us a good look at our season,” she said.

West Branch coach Walt DeShields said the defensive effort was there, and the Warriors are still trying to work sometimes out after graduating four starters.

“We’ve just got to figure out a little bit offensively, and get some more stuff in, it’s early,” he said “So, we’ll get some sets in, and we’ll get some things that we can do that’ll help these girls get in position to score.

“But, we’ve got to handle the ball a little bit tougher and a little bit better.”

Ieraci finished with eight points and senior Gia Francisco and Muckleroy each added six.

West Branch senior Riley Tuel and Pidgeon led the Warriors with six points, and Mercer finished with five.

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