CANFIELD - The Canfield boys basketball team came into Tuesday night's game against Liberty leading the All-American Conference in rebounds per game. Jarret Vrabel, the Cards' top rebounder, was a big reason for that, averaging 10.3 per contest.
But it was one specific rebound against the Leopards that iced the victory for Canfield.
The Cardinals edged the Leopards 61-57 in grinding fashion.
"It was a game of runs because you had two physical teams going at each other," Liberty coach Dan Bubon said. "We stayed tough, we hung in, this is a Division I team with 15 wins and we took them right down to the wire."
Canfield led, 43-42, going into the final frame. The quarter started with Canfield point guard Cole Pryjma driving to the bucket for two and hitting a free throw after he was fouled to give the Cardinals a 45-43 lead with 6:57 left to go. Canfield's Andrew Midgley then hit his fifth triple of the night deep in the corner to extend the Cardinals lead to 48-43.
Liberty and guard Asim Pleas Jr. wasn't phased. He knocked in a fadeaway jumper as he was fouled. He made the free throw to give himself 21 points on the nightand cut the Cardinals lead to 48-47 with 5:03 left.
Canfield came back though, and with 1:32 left, the Cardinals had a 57-52 advantage. Liberty answered with a 5-0 run, capped by a steal and layup by 6-foot-5 D.J. Hight to knot it back at 57 with 43 seconds left. Hight had 11 points in the game.
The tie was short lived after Canfield went back up 59-57 after free throws from Pryjma and Brady Clark.
Liberty had the chance to tie the game as Hight missed a shot and Vrabel ripped down the rebound to secure the victory for the Cardinals.
Vrabel had 11 points on the night. Midgley led Canfield in scoring with 21 points, 15 of those from behind the 3-point arc.
The victory moves Canfield to 15-5 overall for the season, a drastic improvement from its 8-13 season a year ago. The Cardinals host Niles on Friday.
Pleas was a big reason the Leopards were in the game until the end as he had a game-high 23 points. Liberty falls to 9-10 on the season and will have another tough game on Friday as it travels to LaBrae.
Though the Leopards couldn't pull out the win, Bubon had a message for his team.
"I keep harping on the kids that these games will only make us better for the tournament," Bubon said. "Nobody in our tournament, outside of Ursuline, has been through the schedule we've been through."