“It’s awesome, just awesome,” said jubilant Canfeld coach Pat Pavlansky while wearing the net as a necklace. “It’s a great championship for the girls. I’m so happy for them and all the hard work they put in.”
The game was a defensive battle.
The Cardinal defense was able to hold Salem to only 26-percent shooting from the field, while the Salem defense held Canfield to only 25-percent. In crunch time, the youngest of Canfield’s star players stepped up the biggest as sophomore Jillian Halfhill broke a 30-30 tie with two foul shots with a minute and a half to go giving her team the lead for good. She would also hit four more from the foul line in the last minute to ice the game. Halfhill led Canfield with 12 points and also gathered five rebounds.
“That was just an intense battle and it’s what district championships should be like,” Canfield senior Kate Popovec said. “We’re just excited to come out on top. We had a lot of people step it up big when some of us were in foul trouble.”
“Throughout the entire game we had opportunities and we just didn’t cash in on them and they did so that’s what it comes down to,” said Salem coach Jeff Andres. “It was a great game, great game to be apart of. I feel honored to be apart of that game. I’m very proud of my kids and the effort they put forward today.”
During a second half that featured four ties and three lead changes, Halfhill’s clutch foul shooting was only made possible after Canfield was able to tie the game on a rare offensive foul and basket.
Canfield senior Bryanne Halfhill drove the lane and passed off to Anokha Padubidri before colliding with a Salem player. Padubidri hit the open jump shot at the same time Halfhill got called for a charge. Halfhill picked up her five foul but the referees also ruled the basket good and the game tied.
As the afternoon began, it appeared the Canfield faithful wouldn’t need to be biting off their fingernails to the length they were at games end. The Cardinals flew out fast scoring the game’s first ten points before Salem was able to settle in, and foul problems began to strike the Cardinals, ranked No. 6 in the final state poll.
Popovec, a D-I recruit headed to the University of Pittsburgh and Canfield’s top scorer, picked up three fouls in the first quarter and was reduced to a spectator for most of the first half.
“It was a pretty hard thing for me to do,” said Popovec of having to sit and watch. “When B (Bryanne Halfhill who also sat with foul trouble) was next to me it was even harder, but we have a lot of confidence in our team and they really backed us up.”
“We have confidence in any five players that are on the floor and they went out and got it done and stepped up big when two of us, who are big parts of the team, were in trouble. Give a lot of credit to everyone on the team.”
Despite having Canfield’s top two scorers on the bench, Salem couldn’t fully take advantage thanks to the Canfield defensive effort. However, the Quakers were able to get a lead at halftime when sophomore Amy Scullion hit a jumper only five seconds before halftime. Scullion would lead Salem with 14 points and seven rebounds.
With Popovec and Halfhill back on the floor in the third quarter, Canfield again raced out fast scoring the first seven coming out of the break. A three pointer by Salem’s Kelly Roelen got the Quakers back on track to set up the back and fourth battle the second half became.
Canfield would turn the tide from the foul line going 8-for-14 in the second half and 12-for-18 for the game.
“We got in the one-and-one (bonus foul shooting) in the second half like they did in the first half and we made it hurt them the way they made it hurt us,” said Coach Pavlansky. “We started taking the ball to the hoop a lot better and got more fouls called.”
The district championship is the first one for Canfield’s talented senior class. Seniors Popovec, Halfhill, and Melissa West have all been starting since their freshman year, and along side fellow senior Theresa Luklan, were determined to go out on top.
“There are no words, we didn’t even know what to do we were so happy,” said Popovec. “It’s been our goal since we were freshmen. This is the last time and the last chance to make it happen. We wanted to get out there for our team and for everyone. It’s a great, great feeling.
Canfield advances to the Barberton Regional and will face Canal Fulton Northwest in a regional semifinal Tuesday.