The last time Poland played Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in a state tournament basketball game, LeBron James was still playing for the Irish.
King James had his way with the Bulldogs that night, but that was to be expected since he is “The Chosen One.” When the two schools met in the regional semifinal at the Canton Civic Center last Thursday night, the Irish got a huge boost from a source not as widely popular as the current Cavs superstar. Senior Dominique Mitchell came off the bench to score 13 points, including a pair of three-pointers, to help SVSM charge back from a 15-point third quarter deficit and upend the Bulldogs, 74-60. It was a guarantee that when the Poland coaching staff watched SVSM on film, it didn’t notice Mitchell making that many shots.
“That number five (Mitchell) came out of nowhere,” said a horse sounding Poland head coach Ken Grisdale a day after the game. “He stepped up for them and got them going.”
It was Poland who got going early in the game behind a group of seniors who were looking to end their high school careers cutting down nets in Columbus. Seniors Ben Donlow, David Baker, Niko Fatimus and Luke Wollet combined to score 57 of Poland’s 60 points. The Bulldogs came out of the gates shooting as well as a team with just one loss all year would be expected to shoot. Poland took a two-point lead after one period then extended that margin to 32-23 at halftime. Midway through the third period, Poland’s lead was 15 points and the hoard of Bulldogs’ fans that made the hour trip south were already making plans to extend their stay for the regional final. Unfortunately, that is when a little change in defense by the Irish paid off in a big way.
“(SVSM) went big on us,” said Grisdale. “They got into a 2/3 zone to stop Wollet (who was killing SVSM with dribble penetration) and we weren’t used to seeing that from them. Then we just ran out of gas.”
Grisdale took pride all year in being able to bring a wave of fresh, skilled players into the game at any time, but against the larger Irish he had to play the starters longer than usual. Those extra minutes truly tired his senior starting stars. After the game, it was Grisdale who grew tired of having to say goodbye to his terrific twelfth-graders.
“It was hard for me to put into words how I felt about them,” the coach said sadly. “I told the kids how proud I was of them. They were part of a very special group. They went to two state semifinals. It needs to sink in a few days (that the season is over).”
After everything does sink in, coach Grisdale will look back on 2009-2010 and realize he had a sensational squad. The Bulldogs finished the year 22-2 and shared the Red Tier of the All American Conference with archrival Canfield. Grisdale’s bunch won a sectional and district title. Fatimus became the school’s all time leader in three-pointers and eclipsed the 1,000 point mark in scoring. Donlow reached that rare 1,000 point plateau as well.
“Anytime you accomplish as much as we did this season you had a great season,” Grisdale admitted.
Donlow finished his career with a 16 point, nine rebound game against SVSM. Baker was right behind him with 15 points and led the team with 11 boards. Fatimus added 14 points. Wollet had a dozen points, six assists and got in the hair of the Irish defenders all evening. Fellow senior Dom DeFelice scored the other three points for Poland. With a quintet like that leaving Poland this summer, one would think that there is nothing to look forward to next fall for the Bulldog cagers. Grisdale, however, would vehemently disagree with that thought.
“We are disappointed now, but next year we have a chance to be good again,” said the coach excitedly. “We have a great group of parents who understand what it takes to prepare their kids at a young age to become great players. We have a tradition here at Poland that we expect to carry on.”
Photo by Mike Capps, Town Crier correspondent
Luke Wollet, known for being the emotional catalyst of the Bulldogs, squeezes through the tight Irish defense during the regional semifinal. Buy prints and see more photos from the game at cu.towncrieronline.com