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Cardinals fall just short against talented Raiders

Staff photo / Brad Emerine Canfield defenders Amelia Francisco (15), Alyssa Dill, right, and Gianna DeLucia, back, form a tent around Harding’s Faith Burch during Saturday’s game. The host Raiders beat the Cardinals 40-34.

WARREN — The Canfield High School girls basketball team was knocking on the door, seemingly in good position to upset host Warren G. Harding and hand the Raiders their first loss of the season.

But the Cardinals couldn’t burst through that door, as the Raiders’ put up a roadblock and scored nine consecutive points en route to a 40-34 victory over Canfield on Saturday.

“We’re struggling a little right now with confidence, but I can assure you and them that we (coaches) have more confidence in them than they have in themselves,” said Canfield coach Matt Reel, whose team dipped to 5-6 overall and 2-1 in the All-American Conference. “Until that changes, we’re not going to get wins against good varsity teams like Harding. That’s what we’re most disappointed with. We can see that they can do this, but the girls don’t believe for the most part.

“Defensively, I thought we played very well tonight. We just have some girls who are playing very tentatively, almost like they’re afraid to make mistakes or afraid to make big plays, or step up and go make shots.”

After Alyssa Dill made a bucket to trim Canfield’s deficit to 31-23 entering the fourth period, Kate Sahli opened the fourth quarter with a basket and Marissa Ieraci drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key. But the threat stopped there.

Staff photo / Brad Emerine Canfield point guard Marissa Ieraci, left, drives past Warren G. Harding defender Diamond Phillips.

Harding (7-0, 3-0) responded with more patience on offense and produced a 9-0 run for a 40-28 lead with 1:08 left. Faith Burch made a pair of free throws and followed by converting a short jumper in the lane off an assist from Alasha Williams. Point guard Diamond Phillips scored on a drive and then dished back out of the key to Burch, who nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the circle to end the run.

“Diamond is real underrated. I think she’s one of the better point guards around and we’ve known that since these girls were in seventh grade,” Reel said. She’s really improved her game. She does a nice job creating tempo and knowing when to push and when to pull back. Her shot is improved and if you have to go out and pressure her, it’s a really, really tough job because she’ll go around you.”

The Raiders played without senior standout Kamarah Bender, who is undergoing COVID-19 contact tracing, but has shown no symptoms, according to Harding coach Frank Caputo.

“We came in and did a walk through for an hour before we normally arrive for a home game because we didn’t find out about Kamarah until late last night,” Caputo said. “But we’ve been preaching to our No. 6, 7, 8 and 9 girls to learn every position because at any point and time this year, with this stuff going on, somebody might disappear from the lineup.”

The Cardinals clamped down on Burch, limiting her to two points in the first quarter until she scored seven of Harding’s final nine points.

“Canfield is a great preparation team and they know how to handle both bigs and smalls and they had people in the right places today,” Caputo said. “They did a great job against Faith, but she kept fighting through it, and not scoring didn’t affect her overall play. She had maybe 10 or 11 rebounds, a handful of blocked shots and kept busy on defense. That’s a sign of maturity and willingness to do whatever it takes for the team.”

Reel said Harding’s size and athleticism presented a problem.

“We were too tentative, but of course Harding can do that to you,” Reel said. “They’re long, athletic and can jump. They take away things in the zone defense that a lot of other teams don’t and we tried to practice for that. But it’s tough to duplicate their size, length and quickness. It’s a tough combination to prepare for.

“Our girls put in the time, work hard and they’re wonderful young ladies, but their belief in themselves has got to be greater than the coaches’ belief. That’s what can get us over the top and what we’re trying to create. When you face good teams at the varsity level, you have to have that belief and drive.”

Abby Muckleroy scored 12 points to lead Canfield, which plays host to Louisville on Monday, Howland on Wednesday and Fitch on Friday. Ieraci and Dill both scored nine.

Williams led the Raiders with 13 points, including 11 in the first quarter. Phillips netted 12 to go with Burch’s nine points.

“Alasha Williams really deserves the shoutout,” Caputo said. “We’ve been telling her she has to be positive in her ability, and she stepped up and really had a great first half. She started well and set that momentum for us.

“That’s why this was a great team win, being without Kamarah and Canfield having Faith bottled up for the most part. We found a way. If you notice, Diamond controlled the tempo and made some key baskets and she kept us in good spots. Then those two senior leaders took over down the stretch after it got tight.”

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