By John Bassetti
The game was billed as “Fender vs. Fender,” but did it materialize?
Yes and no.
It succeeded because Chad Fender, Poland’s defensive coordinator, crafted a plan aimed at stopping Springfield Local point guard Eoghan Bees, but it flopped because coach Eric Fender’s Springfield team couldn’t respond in SAturday’s 59-29 loss.
Six other teams had similar problems at the hands of the Bulldogs so far.
“Even at 7-0, we’re still figuring out who we are, but we’re getting there,” Poland head coach Ken Grisdale said after the non-league win over a team it hadn’t played since the 2009-2010 season — partly because of the close coaching relationships.
“Tom’s one of my best friends and Eric was one of my players,” Grisdale said of the Springfield assistant father and head coach son combination.
“We weren’t going to play each other anymore, but we were stuck for games,” Grisdale said of overcoming the inner conflict. “Since their program has turned the corner, it seemed like a good time to renew the rivalry.
“I don’t care if it went the other way [Springfield victory], but Eric and Chad like to go at each other a little.”
Just a night earlier, Poland held Fitch to 27 points. The Bulldogs are giving up 37 points a game. It didn’t hurt that Poland shot 24 of 45 from the field to 13 of 36 for Springfield.
“We’re unselfish, we play hard, we’re sound defensively and, offensively, we’re starting to shoot the ball well,” Grisdale said of Poland’s attributes. “I think our best games are ahead of us, but I’ll take 7-0 going into the new year.”
Jacob Wolfe and Ryan Burke had 12 points apiece, while sub Mario Bouchedid added 10 for the winners.
Springfield had four players score six points apiece: Alex Wharry, Jared McTigue, Mark Schuler and Brandon Chamberlain.
Poland’s biggest concern was Bees.
“We tried to put as much pressure as we could on him,” Grisdale said. “We have all the respect in the world for him because he’s a very good player, but it’s like cutting the head off of a snake because the snake’s not going to know exactly where to go.
“We wanted to get after him. The rest was just good team defense. We weren’t allowing Schuler to get started, so our kids did a good job.”
Grisdale said that Bouchedid is a senior who stuck with the program.
“He plays his heart out, but, unfortunately, he backs up Jake Wolfe, who is probably our best player, so his minutes aren’t great. When he does get his opportunity, he does a nice job.”
Ditto for sub Nick Andrews.
“He’s smart and a really nice complement to [Alex] Hubbell because their strengths kind of offset each other,” Grisdale said. “Nick is a great communicator and knows exactly what we’re trying to do. He’s been a guard all his life, but now he’s figuring out his new role because we’re asking him to play in the post.”
Another contributor was speedy Kevin White, who, although he didn’t score, played with heart.
Eric Fender concurred with the problems caused by Poland.
“That’s probably the most ball pressure we’ll see probably up until McDonald — and they do it well and they’re physical,” the Springfield coach said. “When you go nine and 10 deep, it’s always nice.”
Fender credited White for putting the clamps on Bees.
“Kevin White did a really nice job of that.”