Poland one victory away from league championship
The Bulldogs' Lou Coppola scored 17 points.
POLAND -- The Poland High boys basketball team was looking for some increased front court activity in a game against perennial rival Struthers. Turns out, the post power came from Struthers.
Bulldogs post sophomore Lou Coppola is a Struthers native, and he had a personal mission in playing well in front of his friends and family. Coppola scored 17 points with three blocks and eight rebounds to lead Poland to a 70-40 Metro Athletic Conference victory against the Wildcats. The Bulldogs (13-1, 9-0) need one more win to clinch the league championship.
Coppola's large family contingent had some mixed allegiances in the Poland gym.
"They were probably sitting with Struthers, but hopefully they were cheering for me," Coppola joked.
They had plenty to cheer about.
The Bulldogs, led by Coppola's 10 first quarter points, began the game on a tear. They ripped away 10 steals in the first half -- and had 19 for the game -- and left no doubt who was in control.
Coppola's first basket was a one-handed dunk on a feed from Chad Fender. Fender led the Bulldogs with six assists. Teammate Jim Shurilla did his usual damage, scoring 22 points and nabbing five steals. The steals profoundly disrupted Struthers' offense early.
Relying on foul shots
The Wildcats (4-10, 1-7) did not score a field goal until late in the first quarter -- it was their only non-free throw points in the quarter. Jim Sodeman perked Struthers up some in the second quarter when he hit a running shot and then stole the ball on the following possession and scored in transition. He then had a putback for the next Wildcats score, but all three baskets only cut the Poland lead down to 32-15.
Coppola continued to ravage his way through the front court in the third quarter, scoring four points before driving hard to the basket to hit the shot and draw a foul. After hitting the free throw for a 47-21 lead, he exited the game for good in the third.
"He's progressed through the year," Grisdale said. "We got to make a presence known down low. He played real hard -- even when he wasn't trying to score."
Mike Duponty led Struthers with 11 points and Sodeman scored 10.
But by the time the buzzer blared in the Poland gym, nine Bulldogs had contributed to 70 points. It erased a fear Grisdale said every coach has coming into a game against a team with a losing record. But Grisdale's faith in his team's resolve held true.
"They love to compete regardless of record, in a rivalry game," Grisdale said. "Struthers is Struthers to Poland."