On to Columbus

Canfield edges Louisville to win regional title

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Canfield’s crowd celebrates as the Cardinals’ David Crawford finishes a pin of Louisville’s Lathan Larsen on Wednesday at Canfield High School. Canfield won the match, 33-31, to advance to the state quarterfinals in Columbus on Feb. 11.

CANFIELD — It took every ounce of restraint that Tyler Stein had to stay composed.

Of all the big moments the Canfield High School wrestling program has enjoyed over the last few years — and there have been plenty — this was the biggest one yet.

And while Stein was the one who put the Cardinals over the top, he didn’t want to disgrace the moment by celebrating on the mat.

“I tried to stay calm,” Stein said. “I could see everyone jumping up and down, and I had a straight face, but I just wanted to jump out of my skin.”

Stein’s pin at 220 pounds set off a wild celebration in a packed Canfield High School as he was the deciding match in the Cardinals’ 33-31 victory over Louisville in the Division II Region 12 championship of the OHSAA Dual Team State Tournament.

Canfield had good reason to celebrate, too, because this one was a long time coming.

The Cardinals, now 18-0, lost in the regional final twice (2015, 2017) and both came in heartbreaking fashion — once on the final match and the other on a controversial illegal slam. There was no controversy this time.

Canfield, which now wrestles in the state quarterfinals at St. John’s Arena in Columbus, won five of the last six matches to rally from a 25-6 deficit and pull off a monumental win.

“You could feel the roof come off this place,” Cardinals coach Steve Pitts said of the celebration. “To be honest, it was a monkey off our back. We’ve been on the other end, where Louisville’s at, and they’re going to be in this spot in a few years — that’s a really good team — but I’ve never felt energy like that before. (Individual) state championships aren’t the same. When you do it as a team, there’s something different about it.”

The Cardinals have been state runners-up at the individual state tournament the last two years and crowned two state champions in Georgio Poullas (2016) and David Crawford (2017), but the fact that everyone on the team played a part in this victory made it sweeter to Canfield.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Members of the Canfield wrestling team celebrate after they won the Division II, Region 12 dual team title Wednesday.

“It’s just an amazing feeling that the whole team, not just one or two guys, the whole team could celebrate together,” said Crawford, who pinned his opponent in 13 seconds. “It was a lot of fun, especially doing it on our home gym — with the students we had here and the amount of support we had from our school. It was awesome.”

Louisville, the No. 2 seed in the top half of the region, upset top-seeded Beaver Local, 42-24, earlier in the night, while Canfield handled West Branch, 49-22. That set up a dual between two teams loaded with state-ranked wrestlers (all four also are part of the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League).

The Leopards dominated the lower weights, winning five of the the first six weight classes to go ahead, 19-3. However, they only secured two pins in the process. The Cardinals, whose final five wrestlers are each ranked in the top 10 in the state, locked up four pins, a 12-point difference that swung the match.

“We have faith in the back end of our lineup,” Pitts said. “A lot of our kids are football players — they went to the regional finals — and we have a lot of trust in those kids. This isn’t the first time we’ve been down in a dual like that and rallied back. We’ve done it a few times, so we knew what we had coming.”

They don’t know what’s next though.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Canfield’s McCoy Watkins (foreground) tries to secure a takedown on Louisville’s Logan Vanicek during their match Wednesday in Canfield.

Pitts said the Cardinals must wait for the OHSAA to reseed the final eight teams before they know who they wrestle on Feb. 11. The other seven teams remaining are Wauseon, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Lake Catholic, Claymont, Fairfield Union, Ross and Miami Trace.

Before they even get to that point, Canfield must refocus for the EOWL Tournament, which takes place Friday and Saturday in Austintown. The Cardinals have won two of the last three league titles.

For now, Pitts — and all of Canfield — is going to savor the moment.

“This gym was nuts,” said Pitts, who’s also a World History and Sociology teacher at Canfield. “I’ve never seen it like this in 20-some years of being around Canfield. It’s never been this packed. That student section was like a basketball student section. That’s what we want, and that speaks a lot to the community we have. All those kids in the stands are friends with our kids. There’s no animosity. There’s basketball players up there, there’s football players up there. We all support each other more than anyone will ever know, and that was really nice to see.”