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Poland boys clinch top seed at state

February 20, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

Thanks to a 13-game winning streak, an unbeaten league record and a conference championship, the Poland boys basketball team has clinched the top seed in the upcoming Division II state tournament.

The 18-2 Bulldog boys have also earned a first round bye and have automatically advanced to the sectional championship of the Youngstown District. They will host the winner of the match between number 8 seed West Branch and ninth seeded Niles on Friday, March 1. Earning the number one seed is an honor that Poland head coach Ken Grisdale is not taking lightly.

"It says a ton about (my players') character and desire to improve," said the veteran coach this past weekend. "We started a bit slowly while we were trying to figure out what we were strategically capable of doing and what roles the guys would play. Things started to come together in early January."

Article Photos

Photos by Mike Audi, Town Crier

Dogs' Daniel Kramer hits a jumper at last Friday's (Feb. 16) senior night home win over Niles. Kramer had seven rebounds, 14 points, seven assists, two blocks, and a steal.

True to Grisdale's words his team suffered what seemed at the time crushing losses to rivals Canfield and Boardman in December. That setback to the Spartans three nights after Christmas was by 18 points so it left the Bulldogs scratching their heads. They must have figured it out though, because since that uneventful evening, Grisdale's gang has not loss. Over that span, they have outscored their opponents by a whopping 24.5 points per game. There's only been three occasions when Poland hasn't won by double-digits. A 68-60 overtime win over Edgewood on Feb. 9 was the closest the Bulldogs came to being beaten. Along the way, Poland was crowned the first ever champions of the infant Northeast 8 conference. Despite the way the Bulldogs are breezing into the postseason, Grisdale isn't afraid his determined group will become too cocky.

"Focus shouldn't be an issue," Grisdale said. "We have two games (left in the regular season) that should help us stay in rhythm. Our desire to continue to improve will also keep us focused on our goals."

The Bulldogs were certainly focused when they beat up Hubbard and Niles on the road last week. In the 64-46 win over the Dragons last Friday, Poland shook off a sluggish first half to outscore its hosts 37-22 over the final 16 minutes. Braeden O'Shaughnessy slayed the Dragons with 33 points, six rebounds and four steals. Dan Kramer also had a solid all around contest with 14 points, seven rebounds and as many assists.

A few nights earlier, Poland went to Hubbard and absolutely hammered the home team 51-27. While the Bulldogs were streaking on the good side, the 2-18 Eagles were sent to their eleventh loss in twelve games. Kramer captured 12 points to pace the winners. O'Shaughnessy scored 11 points as did Michael Cougras.

Although the Bulldogs seem to be the prohibitive favorites to advance into the district round, their two possible adversaries in the sectional final has Grisdale on edge. He truly believes anybody has a chance to steal the sectionals.

"This year's tournament will be the most competitive in years," said the longtime bench boss. "We have a potential rematch with a very dangerous and scrappy Niles team or a second game versus physically challenging West Branch in the sectional final."

Poland has plastered the Dragons by a combined 45 points this season so that possible third encounter may not be as scary as the coach is leading us to believe. The Warriors played Poland tough, but finally succumbed 71-63 on December 22. As Grisdale pointed out, that was the portion of the campaign when Poland wasn't playing up to its enormous potential. At this time, his Bulldogs are blazing hot and will be a major factor throughout March.



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