By Ryan Buck
The Poland High Boys basketball team is right where it expected to be after a 53-40 victory over Southeast in Wednesday’s Division II district semifinal at Boardman High School.
The Bulldogs earned a date with All-American Conference rival Struthers, the district’s top seed, in Saturday’s championship game for the second straight year.
Advancing wasn’t without struggle, however, as the second-seeded Bulldogs needed a dominant defensive effort in the fourth quarter to put away the Pirates (16-6), the district’s fourth seed.
Clinging to a 41-36 lead, the Bulldogs defense allowed only four points in the final quarter.
“We stopped their penetration and our zone pushed them a little further off the 3-point line,” Poland coach Ken Grisdale said. “To hold them to four was a necessity. If it was anything like the second or third, we were in trouble.”
Poland (17-5) jumped out to a 20-4 lead to begin the game and appeared ready to blow the game open. Southeast responded with an 11-0 run that spanned the end of the first and early second quarters and remained in striking distance, but couldn’t convert when it mattered.
“We never got it to a one-possession game,” said Southeast coach Matt Dillon. “I was proud of how patient we were; we got good looks against their man or zone [defense], we just didn’t make enough shots.”
The Bulldogs’ performance at the free throw line was instrumental as well. The team converted 8 of 10 attempts in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
“We weren’t too hot from the free throw line the last game,” said Poland senior Colin Reardon, who had 31 points and 14 rebounds. “We have little games at practice that help us work on it. We really wanted it tonight and found it.”
“He’s a really good athlete,” Dillon said of Reardon. “We thought we did a pretty good job of guarding him tonight, but he’s just a good basketball player. He should be proud of himself.”
The Poland senior and Kent State football recruit now looks forward to the match-up with Struthers.
“It should be a really fun game — like a backyard game, just with a lot of people watching,” Reardon said. “It will be the best of both teams hopefully.”
Ken Grisdale’s looking forward to the contest as well. The teams split the season series with each team winning on the other’s home court.
“Both programs have a great deal of respect for each other,” said Grisdale, who lost last year’s district final 36-33. “We’re looking forward to playing a great basketball game against a great team and let the chips fall where they may.
“We’re both proud programs who’ve had quality seasons.”
Southeast seniors Noah Kainard and Joe Kinker led the Pirates with 12 points apiece.