Third time’s a charm as Poland upsets Wildcats
By Brandon Judeh
Some say one of the hardest tasks, in any sport, is to beat a team three times in one season.
The Poland High girls basketball team proved this as it beat Struthers for the first time this season, 40-30, in Thursday’s Division II sectional final at Fitch High School.
The third-seeded Wildcats (19-3) quickly fell behind thanks to hot shooting from Poland’s Abbie Frank and Maura Bobby.
Fifth-seeded Poland (13-7) took a 13-point halftime lead and looked poised to run away with the game, but Struthers had other plans.
The rejuvenated Wildcats came out of the half with more intensity.
“They changed some things up on us and we had to make some adjustments ourselves,” said Poland head coach Nick Blanch. “It’s like the old ‘poke the sleeping giant’ and I think we caught them off guard and woke that sleeping giant up.”
Indeed they did as Struthers soon cut the lead to six.
The Wildcats mounted their comeback with intense defensive pressure, led by sophomores Halle Smrek and McKenna Shives. However, missed layups and free throws proved to be fatal for Struthers.
“Hats off to Poland; Nick [Blanch] did a great job preparing them,” said Struthers head coach John Grandy.
“Sure we missed some shots we should have made and whatever else, but we are going to come back with a vengeance next season.”
In the fourth quarter things got tense as both teams applied pressure and exchanged possessions at a lightning pace with Struthers slowly growing momentum.
“The pressure was definitely on them since we were the underdogs, so we had to come out harder, we knew we could do it,” said Bobby.
Both Bobby and Blanch added that their team’s senior leadership proved to be the difference. Bobby, Frank and Rachael Robertson combined for eight made free throws in the final quarter to clinch the victory.
Though it was hard to tell, Bobby admitted she was a little nervous when her team’s lead started to slip.
“I was nervous, but we all needed to relax and believe we could do it and we did,” she said.
Frank led the team with 15 points while Bobby chipped in with 13.
Brittaney Zupko led the Wildcats with nine points and Smrek had a team-high nine rebounds.
Crestwood 55 Liberty 22
The Red Devils (55-22) started Thursday’s opener on a 14-2 run and took a 20-point halftime lead. Crestwood’s Dannise Johnson had four first-quarter steals and led all scorers with 23 points and five steals.
For Liberty (5-16), Leah Leshnack scored 11 while Rachel Crum grabbed 11 boards.