YOUNGSTOWN - The closer the Howland Tigers girls' basketball team inches towards an undefeated record in the regular season, the less it wants to dwell on the possible achievement.
But it was hard not to think about a 20-0 record after the Tigers showed resiliency in holding off the Canfield Cardinals, 50-48, in an All-American Conference Red Division game Jan. 28 at the Chevrolet Centre.
"I don't want to say we don't set goals, but I like to say one game at a time," Howland coach John Diehl said after the Tigers improved their record to 14-0. "After tonight we can look at the goal of an undefeated season and maybe winning our division and getting a number one seed at the tournament."
This game turned into a shootout between Howland senior Kelly Barzak and Canfield junior Julian Halfhill. Halfhill, a 5-foot-6 guard, was steady throughout and occasionally spectacular in scoring a game-high 30 points. Barzak, a 6-1 post player, started strong with 10 points in the first quarter and finished strong with nine in the fourth in tallying 25 points.
"She's an amazing player," Barzak said of Halfhill. "We have different games. She's a hard player to stop."
The Cardinals (9-6) limited Barzak to six combined points in the second and third quarters. They weren't as successful in the other two quarters.
"They did a really nice job of isolating Barzak in the first quarter, and it really opened up everything for them," Canfield coach Pat Pavlansky said. "We tried four different defenses in the first half. We've been a man team the last month. They did a lot better job than we did."
The Tigers had a 33-25 lead at halftime after leading 16-14 after the first period. The Cardinals went with halfcourt pressure in the third quarter, which limited the Tigers to five points in the period.
Halfhill, who scored 10 points in the third stanza, tied the score at 33 on a drive to the basket at the 4:08 mark. Barzak answered with a three-point play. Halfhill added another two points, but Taylor Williams made two free throws for give the Tigers a 38-35 lead.
Halfhill wasn't done in the quarter. She connected on two more fielders before the buzzer sounded to give the Cardinals a 39-38 lead.
"Coach Diehl always says that every good team has a run," Barzak said. "We had our run in the first half and they had their run in the third quarter. We just had to get another run towards the end."
The lead changed hands three times in the fourth quarter. The Tigers took the upper hand for good at 46-44 on a three-point play by Barzak.
Trailing 49-46, the Cardinals moved to within one point of a tie on a shot by Halfhill in the lane. Howland's Abby Nicholas made one foul shot to provide the final margin.
The Cardinals had possession for an inbounds play at halfcourt with 3.8 seconds remain ing. The pass was knocked out of bounds by the Tigers, giving the Cardinals another chance with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Megan Long broke up a lob pass for Halfhill near the basket to seal the win.
"I was on Megan pretty good," Diehl said. "I talked about her making a big play for us as a senior. She did a real nice job on that play."