Poland holds off Struthers in AAC American matchup
Gajdos helps Bulldogs avoid AAC upset
By Ryan Buck
The Poland High boys basketball team earned a share of the All-American Conference, American Division with a 44-40 comeback win over visiting Struthers on Friday night.
The Wildcats seized the momentum and the lead with an 8-0 run to open the fourth quarter, capitalizing on a technical foul charged to the Bulldogs after a scramble for a loose ball with 7:03 left in the game.
Struthers guard Ray’Quan Phifer converted the resulting free throws before Temeko Holness tied the game at 31 with one of his eight points in the post. Anthony Quattro stole the ball at midcourt, and converted two more free throws after he was fouled driving for the go-ahead basket. Austin Yemma followed with two more from the line to give the Wildcats a 35-31 lead with 6:11 remaining.
Outrebounded and outmanned by the deeper Bulldogs, the Wildcats knocked down eight 3-pointers and never trailed by more than six at any point.
“I just told them, ‘This is our game if we want to take it,’ ” Struthers coach coach Joe Savko said at the outset of the final quarter. “We tried to get a little run going to get the lead back and put some pressure on them and, unfortunately, they responded. That’s what good teams do.”
Following two Jacob Wolfe free throws, Poland guard George Chammas’ rebound off a Nick Gajdos miss and three-point play on a strong drive to the basket gave the Bulldogs a 36-35 lead with just over five minutes left.
Gajdos, who came off the bench to spell Kevin White at point guard, made sure not to miss again.
On Poland’s next possession, Gajdos squared up from right corner on a baseline inbounds play and drilled the shot for a four-point Poland lead, the result of two offensive rebounds from Wolfe.
“That’s one thing we told the kids when we started the year,” said Poland coach Ken Grisdale, whose team pulled down 16 offensive rebounds for the game, “good offense will put fans in the stands, good defense is going to win some games, rebounding’s going to win them a championship.”
Quattro hit another pair of free throws to pull the Wildcats back to within two.
At the other end, Wolfe pulled down another rebound and found Gajdos open.
“My teammates came through and got me open,” Gajdos said. “I felt like I was going to hit the shot so I just pulled back and hit it.”
From the top of the arc, his second field goal of the game extended the lead to 42-37 with three minutes left in the game.
“(Assistant coach) Chad (Fender) and I sit next to each other and I looked at (Gajdos),” said Grisdale. “I said, ‘I think we need to give Gajdos a shot here,’ and he thought that might be a good idea.”
With 1:30 left, Phifer rose up for three more of his game-high 17 points to cut the deficit back to two.
Poland came up empty on two straight trips to the foul line to give the Wildcats another opportunity. An errant pass sailed out of bounds and into the Struthers bench before Wolfe’s two free throws sealed the Poland win.