Canfield, Liberty in rematch
The Cardinals bounced Howland 65-50, while the Leopards ousted Struthers.
BOARDMAN -- When the Canfield and Liberty boys basketball teams first met in late December, the Leopards were still recovering from a long football season and the Cardinals were in no mood to be nice.
"They were still out of shape and we won by 22," said Cardinals coach John Cullen. "I'm sure that won't be the case [on Wednesday]."
So you think you'll win by 24?
"I'd be thrilled with one," he said, laughing. "I know we're going to have our hands full, but I think they'll have their hands full, too."
Canfield dropped Howland 65-50 in Friday's Division II sectional final at Boardman High School to advance to next week's district semifinal matchup against the Leopards.
Liberty beat Struthers 61-51 in the early game. The Leopards won last year's district title, but lost nine of their top 10 players to graduation.
"They're a very athletic team," Cullen said of Liberty. "They're probably the best defensive team athletically we've faced. Maybe them and Ursuline.
"But I think we match up pretty well with them."
Leading the Cardinals
Senior Jordan Ferns led Canfield (15-6) with 16 points against Howland and Kyle Melewski added 13 points and seven rebounds.
The Cardinals were outrebounded 43-36 -- including 30-16 in the second half -- but their defense created havoc all night. Howland rushed shots underneath and connected on just 17-of-60 from the field (28 percent).
"They're a scary team, now that everyone is healthy," Cullen said of the Tigers. "We said we needed to win the battle of the constants: rebounding, defense, free throw shooting and turnovers.
"I think we won three of four of those."
The Tigers, playing their last game with coach Bernard Bolha, closed within four, 27-23, early in the third quarter, but hurt themselves at the free throw line down the stretch, hitting just 9-of-18 in the second half.
Dario Hadzovic had 15 points and eight rebounds for Howland (6-15), while Aaron Womak added 13 points and nine rebounds.
Liberty, meanwhile, began its district title defense missing more than just last year's players.
Earlier in the week, Leopards coach Burt Stellers found out his best player, junior Ed Kershaw, would miss the game -- and, maybe, the rest of the season.
"He has some air around the lining of his heart," said Stellers. "I can't tell you how it happened or what the prognosis is. But at this point, I don't care if plays again this year as long as he gets better.
"His health is our first priority."
Picks up scoring slack
Sophomore Mychal Doblanski picked up the scoring slack for Kershaw, pouring in 25 points to go along with six rebounds.
After Struthers tied the game at 26 midway through the third quarter, Doblanski caught fire, scoring 18 of Liberty's last 35 points.
"It was a little weird playing without Ed, but we practiced without him all week," said Doblanski. "We all knew we needed to step up."
John Humphrey added 11 points for the Leopards (16-5). Brandon Cornwell added six assists and Chris Harrison had 14 points and seven rebounds.
Tough on defense
Junior Donovan Fletcher had just two points, but did an outstanding job defending Struthers sharpshooter Dave Mathews, Stellers said.
"Yesterday in practice I told him I wanted to know whether he wore Hanes or BVDs," Stellers said.
"I haven't asked him yet," he said. "I'm afraid to ask."
Mathews finished with nine points -- none in the fourth quarter -- while Mike Duponty had 14 points and eight rebounds to lead the Wildcats (5-16).
Liberty wasn't sure what to expect entering this season, but after earning a share of the Trumbull Athletic Conference title and a district semifinal bid, Stellers has nothing but praise for his team.
"We're ecstatic," he said. "I'd just like to see a few more fans out there supporting us."