By STEVE WILAJ
Because of the success of Poland High’s football team, Bulldogs basketball coach Ken Grisdale realized his team missed out on some valuable preseason practice time.
“We’ve had a real slow start,” he said. “We’ve just been getting some guys back, so we weren’t sure what was going to happen [in Tuesday’s season opener].”
If there was any football hangover, you couldn’t tell.
Storming out of the gates against Liberty, Poland defeated the Leopards, 65-36, keyed by an 18-5 first-quarter advantage.
“The start was the key,” Grisdale said. “We played some solid defense and then we were able to find some offense. Once we put a few through and got a little bit of a lead, we were able to relax.”
Dan Black, who led Poland with 13 points, said although the Bulldogs (1-0) hadn’t scrimmaged since Nov. 9, they were ready for live action.
“It was our intensity,” he said. “We came out ready to play from the beginning, especially on the defensive end. That was our main focus.”
As tough as Poland’s defense was, Liberty head coach Dan Bubon knows his team didn’t help its own cause by shooting 24 percent.
“Early, even with running very little offense, we got some really good shots in tight that we missed,” Bubon said. “With a young team, that has a tendency to deflate them a little bit.”
The Leopards (0-1) recovered briefly to cut the halftime deficit to 30-16, but Poland’s 10-man rotation wore down Liberty in the second half.
“We picked up the pressure again,” Black said. “We kind of got lackadaisical there and they made a run. But we came back and took care of business.”
Black said having such a large rotation has its advantages.
“You know there’s someone behind you to pick up right where you left off,” he said. “You can play your hardest right then and there, then you know you have a break.”
Ten Bulldogs scored. Jake Wolfe, Austin Wilson, and Tate Duarte each had nine points apiece.
“I think we really have 10 solid players,” Grisdale said. “We would really like to be more up-tempo, play a two- or three-minute shift and then bring four or five off the bench. I think the kids enjoy that and have fun with it.”
Asim Pleas Jr. paced Liberty with 17 points, while Danny Markulin added five and Leslie Carter scored four.
Bubon said the Leopards — who, like Poland, had their football team make the playoffs — simply need time to gel.
“This team is brand new pretty much, so this is what you’re gonna get early,” he said. “The great thing is no one was negative afterwards, we understand what we have to work on and I think we’re gonna turn this around quick. Poland’s just a tough team to open with.”