By Ryan buck
The two communities and their high schools basketball teams are so similar.
Both packed James Watkins Gymnasium inside Canfield High School on Friday night. Shared emotions throughout the evening ended with one group reveling in victory and the other left to ponder a deflating defeat.
Poland and Canfield have staged many epic contests in their shared history on the basketball court. Friday night’s may not have been the most visually pleasing, but the intensity may have topped them all.
In the third overtime period, Poland junior guard George Chammas drove his way for two baskets to lifrt the Bulldogs to a 46-43 victory over All-American Conference American Division archrival Canfield.
Through 40 minutes of action, points were hard to come by for two teams that know each other almost as well as they know themselves. Poland’s execution at the end was the difference.
“It’s exciting,” said Chammas, who scored a game-high 15 points. “We just won the trophy. We have a chance to tie in first place for the league with Canfield.
“We knew we were tired, both teams, but we just kept believing, kept fighting and had heart.”
With 3:45 remaining in the third four-minute overtime session, Chammas slipped past a screen at the foul line, ball in hand, and gave the Bulldogs a 40-38 lead.
“I told the kids in overtime, ‘Whoever scored, whoever got up, was going to win,’” said Poland coach Ken Grisdale.
Chammas found himself with the ball at the top of the key on the Bulldogs’ next possession, after a traveling call on Canfield. Again, he dribbled hard to his left around a devastating ball screen from Jacob Wolfe to find an open lane and an easy layup, putting Poland ahead 42-38 with 2:55 left in the period.
“We defended down the stretch and Poland defended down the stretch,” Canfield coach Todd Muckleroy. “It’s all about making shots. They obviously made the most and that’s the difference in the game.”
Reviewing the tape from Canfield’s 54-35 victory in their first meeting on January 11th, Grisdale and his staff thought they could capitalize on Chammas’ ability to drive the ball inside.
“Watching the first film, George was able to get to the rim a lot,” Grisdale said. “They were guarding [Wolfe] so tight that we thought we could ball-screen with Wolfe. The kid who was guarding him wasn’t going to help, so we could get that gap and that’s what happened.”
Canfield point guard Cole Pryjma cut the Cardinals’ deficit to two just seconds later, splitting Poland’s defense for a layup high off the glass.
Poland sophomore Kyle Dixon knocked down a pair of free throws with 1:12 left for a four-point advantage. Andrew Midgley drew Chammas’ fifth and disqualifying foul, and hit one of two free throws of his own.
With 24 seconds left, Pryjma’s second basket of the overtime brought Canfield to within one.
Wolfe got possession after the inbounds pass and eluded the Canfield defenders desperate to foul. Eventually he was fouled and stepped to the foul line and despite a boisterous Canfield crowd he converted both free throws for a 46-43 Poland lead with 12.3 seconds left.
“I was focusing on the front of the rim, focusing on my mechanics,” Wolfe said, sporting a fresh shiner and cut below his left eye. “Just make it.”
Troy Bole, making his first appearance of the night, tipped the ball away on Midgley’s last- second 3-point attempt to preserve the win and trigger the Poland faithful’s rush to the court to claim the schools’ coveted rivalry trophy.
“What a fight,” said Grisdale, a Canfield alumnus in his 20th year at Poland. “That’s what it’s supposed to be like, right?”