Poland on brink of state berth
The Bulldogs played stellar defense to defeat Canton South, 55-42.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CANTON -- It has been 30 years since the Poland High boys basketball team has tapped into this kind of drama, anticipation and excitement.
The Bulldogs' last trip to the state tournament came in 1972 after they beat LaBrae for the regional title. Now, they are one win from returning to Columbus.
"That was when Coach [Tom] Fender was a senior in high school," Poland coach Ken Grisdale recalled of his current assistant, whose sons, Eric and Chad, have major roles on the team now.
In its first visit to the regional tournament in six years, Poland relied on its defense to defeat Canton South 55-42 Wednesday in a Division II semifinal at the Canton Civic Center.
The Bulldogs (22-2) will play for the regional title Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against Akron East (12-9), an 81-74 winner over Hunting Valley University School.
Defensive intensity: Poland held Canton South (22-2) without a field goal in the second quarter and continued that defensive intensity into the early stages of the third quarter to take command.
"Our defense held us in there until we could get some points," said Grisdale, who praised the effort of assistant coach Brian Nord.
"He makes great adjustments, and he prepares our kids," Grisdale said of his defensive-minded assistant. "Our kids were calling [Canton South's] plays out.
"Brian Nord is the best defensive coach in Ohio," Grisdale said.
One of the factors for Poland was holding Canton South's junior standout Ronnie Bourquin to nine points while being guarded by Jamie Dunn.
"To have [that defense] in a regional semifinal against a team that had lost once ... I'd have to say it was the best defense we've played all year, because it was the most important game," Grisdale said.
Second-half surge: Leading 21-18 at halftime, the Bulldogs, fueled by a 9-0 run, built their lead to 31-20 with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"As soon as we got that lead, we pulled together and said, 'Hey, this one is not over,' " Dunn said.
Poland held a comfortable lead the rest of the way, never allowing Canton South to get any closer than seven points.
"They gave us holes, and if we were willing to take them, we were going to get to the basket and get high percentage shots," said Grisdale, whose team made 17-of-29 field goal attempts (59 percent).
The only real advantage Canton South enjoyed came in the opening minutes of the game when it built a 7-0 lead.
"I told them that it was going to take a little while to relax and get into it," Grisdale said. "We were tight, but we have an experienced team."
Wakeup call: Senior David McGarry said, "Going down 7-0, that kind of woke us up. We realized we had to pick something up. Then we realized, 'We can beat these guys.' "
Revealing the balance that has carried them into the regional final, the Bulldogs were led by Dunn's 11 points and junior Eric Fender's 10.
Junior Bill Bartos scored seven of his nine points in the second quarter, while junior Neil Harris contributed eight points and senior Lou DaVanzo seven.
McGarry and freshman Chad Fender, who fought through the flu, scored five points each.
"You can't focus on one person," McGarry said. "We're good enough to beat you everywhere."