By Tom Williams
Struggling offenses aren’t likely to find relief against the Poland High basketball team this season.
Head coach Ken Grisdale isn’t afraid to mix 10 players onto the floor almost immediately, allowing the Bulldogs to remain fresh and play defense tenaciously.
The formula worked well Tuesday at Struthers Fieldhouse as Poland limited the Wildcats to 10 baskets — none in the third quarter — in a 65-31 victory.
“Oh, wow” was the response junior forward Jacob Wolfe said when told that defensive pressure held the Wildcats to four free throws in the first eight minutes after halftime.
“We played hard, had great intensity throughout the whole game,” said Wolfe who led the Bulldogs (4-0, 1-0 All-American Conference American Division) with 11 points. “It was our best team effort so far.”
Five minutes into the game, Grisdale already had inserted five players off the bench. It wasn’t an accident.
“We’ve refocused our energy this year on trying to become a more sound basketball team defensively,” the 20-year head coach said. “[Defense coach] Chad [Fender] has really done a good job of selling the kids on what he wants to do.
“We’re playing good half-court D and when we extend, we’ve been able to catch people off-guard,” Grisdale said. “We’re pretty active with our hands, cause a lot of chaos.
“We aren’t who we were in 2008 when we were flying all over,” Grisdsale said. “But I am very pleased where he has our defense now.”
Baskets by Kevin White, George Chammas and Troy Bole launched the Bulldogs into a 7-0 lead. They connected on four of the next five baskets for a 14-5 advantage after one quarter. That’s as close as the Wildcats (2-5) would get as the Bulldogs sailed to a 37-13 halftime lead.
“Our coaches expect a lot of effort,” said Chammas, a junior forward who scored six points. “We make mistakes here and there. Our defense, we’ve worked on it and it’s gotten better.”
Wolfe and Alex Hubbell also started. Quickly into the game were Ryan Burke, Dan Black, Nick Andrews, Nick Gajdos and Steven Andrews.
“We get excited for each other,” Chammas said of the steals, turnovers and easy baskets.
Poland’s bench was nearly as productive as the starters. Black led with nine points and Tyler Evan had seven.
“We like to stay fresh and that really helps,” Wolfe said of Grisdale’s substitutions. “We have a lot of guys who can play defense.”
For the Wildcats, Ray’Quan Phifer, Tommy Kimbrough and Anthony Quattro each scored six baskets.
Grisdale has faith in Fender.
“Who knows me better than him?” Grisdale asked. “He’s been around me since he’s been in fourth grade. I fully trust what he does. The kids love him and respond to him.”