POLAND — Even when facing a double-digit deficit Tuesday night, Poland’s confidence never wavered.
After trailing Canfield most of the night, yet still keeping things close, Bulldogs head coach Nick Blanch knew his team still had something left in the tank down the stretch.
Behind its patented trapping defense, the Bulldogs came back to squeeze past the Cardinals 52-50 in a marquee rivalry showdown.
“We kicked it into one extra gear,” Blanch said. “We rotated a little bit more, got some people some breaks, started using our timeouts a little bit and it just fell our way in the end. Very proud of our kids for never giving up. When you get down by 12 or more points, a lot of times, teams pack it in. This is a special group. They kept fighting and no matter what the situation was — a bad foul or a foul out or whatever happened — they just kept playing and tried to make the next play.”
Canfield (5-3) wasted no time early on, hitting four of its first five baskets towards building up its first double-digit lead. But, each time it did — once in the first half and once in the second half — Poland came crawling back with its defense.
“We wanted to get in the right spots and when we did, I thought we got great shots,” Canfield head coach Matt Reel said. “For some reason, we didn’t have a lot of people that wanted to get in those spots continuously and when you do that against a trapping team, it just makes it really tough for the person getting trapped to have a good pass and create some offense for us.”
The Bulldogs (7-1) cut the lead to two at halftime and took their first lead of the game 1:20 into the second half. Canfield responded with an offensive flurry and held onto a five-point lead headed into the final period.
However, as the game wore on, and Canfield’s turnovers started to pile up, it started to catch up with the Cardinals, especially in the fourth quarter. Canfield finished with 26 turnovers against Poland’s trapping zone.
“That’s completely unacceptable,” Reel said. “Their pressure bothered us, but we weren’t doing the things that we’ve been taught and that’s the most disappointing thing. (The Bulldogs) absolutely deserved to win that game. They took it to us and they were the aggressor in the third and fourth quarters. Their aggression caused us to back off and that’s probably what I’m most disappointed in because we didn’t really embrace the moment, I thought.”
Despite the turnovers, with about four minutes left, Canfield led by nine and looked to be well on its way to closing things out. But, the Bulldogs thought differently.
First, Poland sophomore Mary Brant hit a 3-pointer. Then, after forcing a turnover, Poland senior Abby Farber completed a three-point play after getting fouled on a fast break and all of a sudden, it was a three-point game.
Canfield drew fouls and went to the line for free throws, but were only 3-for-6 in the fourth quarter. While the Cardinals were only able to go 1-for-2 at the line on three separate occasions, Poland answered with layups — first by Brant and second by junior Katie McDonald, which gave Poland just its second lead of the game.
After a Cardinals free throw by senior Alyssa Dill tied the game 49-49, Poland senior Connie Cougras, who led all scorers with 17 points, gave the Bulldogs the lead for good on a driving layup with under a minute to go.
Down by one with about 15 seconds left, Canfield got one last chance after a Poland missed free throw.
“We wanted to make sure they knew the situation,” Blanch said of the final timeout before the free throw. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel at this point. We just want to make sure they’re aware of everything because in the heat of the moment…there’s a lot going on.”
Blanch added that they also wanted to make sure they had Dill defended, should the ball come her way since she had carried Canfield offensively throughout the game with 14 points.
Dill picked up the rebound off the miss and pushed the ball up the floor. Two passes later, senior Summer Sammarone had a look from outside. Her shot rimmed out, the Bulldogs collected the rebound and finished things off at the free throw line.
“We wanted to make sure we got a great shot,” Reel said. “We had something planned, but we didn’t execute it as well as we wanted. We got a wide-open look. We really wanted to take it to the hoop and get fouled. But we had an open look and we trust her to make that decision, she just missed the shot.”