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Warren Harding up next for sectional champs Lady Cardinals
February 26, 2020

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Two wins down two more to go until the Canfield girls basketball team can hoist a district championship trophy.

Canfield's ladies laid waste to Kent Roosevelt then Cuyahoga Falls to capture their second straight sectional crown. Advancing in the districts will be a much more difficult task for the number 4 seeded Lady Cardinals. Their first hurdle in round three was round three with nearly unbeatable Warren Harding this past Tuesday night in Ravenna. Harding had already hurt the Cardinals by a combined score of 91-71 in two meetings this season. Those were just two of the Lady Raiders' league wins during an unbeaten romp through the All American Conference's Red Tier. They are 21-2 overall after getting by Hudson 38-28 in their sectional final.

"It will be a challenge, but we are thrilled for the opportunity," said Canfield head coach Matt Reel a couple days before the battle with the Raiders.

Canfield's coach will be looking for his troops to make a few improvements from the first two tilts against Harding or this contest may get out of hand quickly.

"To defeat Harding, we have to shoot the ball much better than we did both times," said Reel. "We also need to rebound the ball at a high level to compensate for their size advantage."

After a sluggish first period against Cuyahoga Falls that saw neither side score ten points, the Cardinals took a bit of control in the second stanza outscoring their guests 14-10. They would lead 23-15 at halftime. In the third period, Canfield's defense took over and held the Lady Black Tigers to a measly five points. Meanwhile, the Cardinals would score 30 points total after intermission enabling them to eliminate that shaky first 16 minutes.

"That was a good team we beat," said Canfield head coach Matt Reel. "I'm proud of our effort."

Leading that effort for Canfield was high-scoring senior guard Grace Mangapora who scored 23 points. Amazingly, nine of that total came in the fourth frame while Mangapora was messed up with foul trouble. She also hit 7 for 8 free throws down the stretch to help ice the game for her group. Junior Marissa Ieraci nailed three 3-pointers en route to scoring a dozen points. Sophomore shooter Summer Sammarone slapped eight points on the Tigers. Her biggest bucket came right before halftime when she corralled an errant Cuyahoga Falls shot and raced coast-to-coast for a layup. If the Tigers would have been successful on that shot, they would have cut Canfield's lead to just four points heading into halftime. Instead, Canfield led by eight points thanks to that four point swing.

"That was a real momentum boost for us," said Reel.

Another boost for the Redbirds was the defensive job they did against Falls' leading scorer Chelsea Huffman. The senior star was held way below her season average by Canfield's suffocating defenders. She would finish with a respectable 15 points, but for most of the game she was barely the offensive force she normally was this season. That was certainly the Cardinals' focus entering the contest.

"We did a good job of containing her," said Reel about Huffman.

Canfield didn't need to do much on defense in its sectional opener last Saturday at home against Roosevelt. Reel's girls were simply too talented for the 13th seeded Lady Rough Riders as they ran roughshod over them 61-28. Mangapora matched her sectional finals output with 23 points. Sophomore Alyssa Dill and Ieraci each scored seven points. Canfield cruised to a 20-12 lead after the first two periods then clobbered the Kent kids 41-16 over the final two to survive and advance.

So that brings us back to Harding and its incredible athletes. The Warren girls haven't lost since playing in a Holiday tournament in Tampa a few days after Christmas. In fact, their only other loss was way back in the season opener to 21-1 Elyria. That team is also the top seed in its Division III district. If Canfield was able to pull the monumental upset, then it has a date with either number two Stow-Munroe Falls or third seeded Aurora in the district championship. Either contest would be classic. The Cards nipped Stow by a basket earlier this season. A rematch with Aurora, however, would be awesome because it would give Reel's bunch a shot of redemption. In last year's sectional championship, Aurora ousted Canfield 57-38. Of course, Coach Reel wouldn't look too far into the future. He was still sharing in the excitement of getting those first two postseason victories.

"A sectional title in Division I is an accomplishment," Reel said.

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