HOWLAND - It was like gazing into a crystal ball and seeing what the future of the All-American Conference, American Division will look like in girls' basketball as soon as next season.
A word of warning to the other members of the division - approach the Canfield Cardinals and Howland Tigers with caution.
Canfield coach Pat Pavlansky started four juniors and one sophomore in the Cardinals' 59-54 win Thursday. Tigers coach John Diehl countered with a starting cast that did include three seniors, but he can look ahead with confidence because of two returning juniors and 5-11 freshman Sara Price.
"There's no doubt," Pavlansky said of the bright future. "Next year's team will have so much experience compared to this year's team. But we're not looking forward to next year yet. We're looking at Struthers on Saturday."
Diehl, who has had a succession of talented teams in his 21 years with the program, is taking a patient approach with this year's group. He hasn't been as vocal when getting his point across, which might come as a surprise to former players.
"I had one of the seniors say the other day that I haven't even yelled this year compared to previous years," Diehl said. "I did yell at halftime, and unfortunately for them, it kind of worked. So now I might have to yell a little bit more."
Diehl was referring to an 18-point third quarter that turned a 26-19 Tigers' deficit at halftime into a 39-37 deficit after three quarters. The output followed a second quarter in which Howland (7-7, 2-5) scored just seven points.
"We lost that game in the second quarter, and I really don't know what happened," Diehl said. "We lost all our enthusiasm and all our energy. Then we start out in the third quarter really nice. The great player that (Rachel) Tinkey is, she took over the game."
Tinkey, a 5-6 junior, is the cornerstone of the Cardinals' youth movement. She connected on six field shots and was 16-of-19 from the foul line to finish with 29 points as Canfield improved to 9-5 and 5-3.
"We've figured out how to win a game in the fourth quarter in a tough spot," Pavlansky said. "You get the ball to the girl you know is going to make free throws for you, and she does. It's a lot of fun coaching her."
Tinkey took advantage of Howland's need to foul in the fourth quarter, making 12-of-12 free throws. The Tigers were 11-of-16 for the game.
Gabby Cvengros of Howland tied the score at 37-37 with a pair of foul shots and at 39-39 with a jumper. The score was tied again at 46 when Victoria Rappach made a 3-point shot for the Tigers.
Tinkey then proceeded to score 12 of the Cardinals' final 14 points, including 10 at the line. The Tigers had a chance to tie the score in the final seconds with a 3-pointer, but a traveling call put an end to thoughts of a comeback.
Diehl was hoping that Rappach or Trisha Ginnis could get off a 3-point attempt at the end.
"Hopefully one of those two, and then Cvengros roll out because she can shoot 3s from the corner, too," Diehl said.
Price and Cvengros got the Tigers off to a fast start, scoring six points each as Howland took a 12-7 lead through one quarter. Price finished with 16 points, and Cvengros added 14.
As the young Tigers continue to grow as players, Diehl is still in search of a statement win.
"We haven't had a marque win in my mind with this group in the last two years," Diehl said. "This would have been a marque win. I started a couple different people in the second half to light a fire under some of them, and I think it did. I think they played harder in the second half."