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Canfield falls to SVSM

Staff photo / Preston Byers Carly Fleming prepares to attempt a layup against Kendal Batchik during the Cardinals’ district final game Saturday.

UNIONTOWN — The Canfield girls basketball team’s 2023-24 season came to an end Saturday evening with a 67-23 loss to top-seeded Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the Division II, Northeast 3 district championship game.

Canfield qualified for the district final by surging past Salem in the fourth quarter of a tight, competitive semifinal Wednesday. By the final period of Saturday’s game, it was crystal clear who would be advancing to the regional tournament.

The Cardinals fell behind early — SVSM kicked off the game with an 11-1 run — and the defensive pressure the Irish supplied kept Canfield behind, with numerous turnovers and hurried shots stalling the Cardinals’ offense.

Canfield head coach Matt Reel said the pressure that SVSM applied Saturday isn’t something his team can replicate in practice.

“They’re obviously a great pressure team, and you got to handle it. We didn’t handle it well,” Reel said. “When you try to practice against that — we haven’t been able to really fully practice because of some of our injuries — but you can’t simulate that kind of pressure and the speed. It took us a while to get used to it, and I thought when we did get some good looks, we didn’t finish early, and they capitalized on every missed shot and turnover.”

Canfield senior Grace McQuiston recorded the only made field goal for the Cardinals in the first quarter, as SVSM led 19-4 after the first eight minutes.

The second quarter went marginally better for Canfield, who trailed 33-8 at halftime.

The Cardinals’ offense came out of the locker room with renewed focus, but SVSM responded at every turn, preventing any miracle comeback in Uniontown. The Irish extended their lead to 35 points by the end of third and kept pouring it on the fourth, increasing the advantage to more than by the final buzzer.

McQuiston and Carly Fleming each had a team-high six points, while SVSM’s Kendal Batchik led all scorers with 19.

SVSM coach Carley Whitney said her team’s gameplan was clear and executed well.

“[We were] just playing our brand of basketball, pressure defense, get up in them, try to make them decide what they’re gonna do,” Whitney said. “I think when you get this far and you advance, you focus on yourself. There’s a lot that obviously goes into it, but we just wanted to do what we do, play our style, as well continue to do what we do and be true to who we are.”

After the season-ending loss, Reel addressed his team in the locker room.

“It’s always the speech and the talk you don’t want to give,” Reel said. “We basically told them that every team in Division II is gonna give this [speech], except for one. But even then, when they win a state championship, the day after they’re gonna be sad because it’s over. And I think that’s what you feel. It hurts for them because they’re a group that spent a lot of time with it, and they’re special. You try to tell them that, but I don’t know how much they hear.”

Reel said giving that speech is “the toughest thing in sports” and that he had nothing but “positive thoughts” while preparing for Saturday’s game.

He reflected on the journey his four seniors — McQuiston, Camie Dill, Cami Hritz and Macey Kalina — have been on at Canfield, which included reaching the regional final last year.

“It’s just a flood of emotions. You try to get them to understand what a great year they had, battling through a lot of adversity for us. And you hope they take that and they’re able to do it later on in their life. That’s the biggest thing.”

Reel said he views the season as a successful one, especially considering the team’s 6-5 record over the first month and a half of the campaign.

“We were kind of teetering and I wasn’t sure which way we were gonna go, and we played really great basketball the second half of the year,” Reel said. “It’s a successful season anytime you get to a district final. We beat some really good teams, I thought we got better during the year and we had a lot of fun. And to me, that’s a successful season.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Preston Byers by email at pbyers@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @PresByers.

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