That chance just so happened to come in the district championship round of the Division II state tournament in Boardman on March 12. Although the Bulldogs were beaten 36-33 to end their season last Saturday, the performance put forth by the Poland players was vastly different than that one six weeks ago.
“Our kids did a great job,” said a dejected Poland head coach Ken Grisdale on the morning after the game. “They executed the game plan perfectly and we had a chance at the end.”
The game plan put forth by Grisdale and his staff was to stop Struthers from running up and down the court. In the earlier matchup between the two squads, Struthers was able to run and gun the smaller and less speedy Poland players into submission. If the Bulldogs could hold the Wildcats to fewer possessions per period then maybe it would be possible to pull the game out.
“(Struthers) lit it up the first time,” said Grisdale. “We went back to old school basketball for this game. We tried to make every one of their possessions important.”
That strategy worked so well that at one point Poland held Struthers without a field goal for 12 minutes in the middle of the game. With Struthers going scoreless the Bulldogs were able to turn an eight-point deficit into a six-point lead. The game would remain in favor of the underdog Bulldogs until midway through the fourth period when a three-pointer by the Wildcats gave them their first lead of the second half. Poland kept fighting the rest of the way and stubbornly would not succumb to Struthers’ speed. The Bulldogs had a pair of chances to tie the game in the final minutes, but missed shots by Colin Reardon and Drew Wagner sent Poland packing for the spring. After the game ended and all of the emotion of the Bulldogs was spent, coach Grisdale spoke to his team.
“I told them I was so proud of them,” said the coach. “They believed in us and trusted our game plan. This was as easy a team to coach as I have ever had.”
With 17 wins this year it was also a very successful team. Although Grisdale will lose seven seniors including starters Wagner, Darius Patton, Ben Tadla and Anthony Mackie, he will have an opportunity to expand on those seventeen wins with a good core of returning Bulldogs. Leading that group will be seniors-to-be Jerry Lawman and Colin Reardon. Lawman had 12 points and 10 rebounds in Poland’s 49-47 win over Streetsboro on March 9 which catapulted the Bulldogs into the district title game. Meanwhile, Reardon was wonderful on both ends of the floor all season and aided the cause last Wednesday with 21 points. Coach Grisdale can’t wait to have this dynamic duo duplicate their strong seasons next year.
“Lawman is just a coach’s dream,” Grisdale bragged. “Reardon may have had the best season (at Poland) rebounding and scoring. They played a ton of minutes and will lead us (next year).”
Poland will also get a jolt from a group of underclassmen who all should see considerable court action at the varsity level in 2011-2012. Poland’s JV team went 18-2 this season while the freshman team also had a huge winning record. Yet, talent will only take you so far in this district. Next year’s Bulldog bunch will also have to put in the same amount of hard work that got this year’s outfit to within 3 points of an upset win in the championship.
“If we put in the time in the offseason then we will be able to continue what we have started here at Poland,” Grisdale announced.
Photos by Mike Capps, Town Crier correspondent
Poland’s Colin Reardon takes the ball down court during Division II District final against Struthers on Saturday March 12. Boardman High School had hosted the game before a packed house of close to 3,000 fans. Struthers dominated their last meeting Feb. 2, but Poland head coach Ken Grisdale changed his defense and slowed down the Wildcat’s high-powered offense. The contest was not decided until 38 seconds remained, but fell in the favor of Struthers, 36-33.