By Greg Gulas
The Poland High girls basketball team knew that Southeast liked to run, also knowing full well that the Pirates’ strength was controlling the flow of the game.
That’s why Bulldogs coach Nick Blanch told his team it was paramount to seize control of the tempo if they expected to advance beyond the sectional opening round.
Rachael Robertson scored a game-high 17 points while Aleah Hughes added a double-double as the Bulldogs stopped Southeast, 44-28, on Thursday in the Division II tournament at Austintown Fitch High School.
Poland will meet Ravenna Saturday at 4 p.m. in a sectional final,
“We wanted to keep the tempo at our speed and Rachael kept them honest with her threes,” Blanch said. “She seized the opportunity as it was her night to shine for us.
“Another key was Liz Suess and the excellent job she did on Southeast’s Shayna White, who came into the game averaging a double-double,” Blanch said. “Aleah, who also had a hand in containing White, is just a sophomore with so much talent.
“I push her as if she were a senior,” Blanch said. “She understands why I push her and what I expect from her.”
Six points by Hughes helped Poland (15-8) to an 8-6 lead after the opening quarter. Robertson made three of her four buckets from beyond the arc in the second quarter as the Bulldogs built a 21-12 halftime advantage.
“We just wanted to leave everything on the court tonight,” Robertson said. “This is my senior year and I didn’t want the season to end just yet.
“Defensively, we wanted to limit any second chance opportunities while offensively, my teammates found me when I was open and I was just able to connect.”
Three points each by Hughes, Robertson and Kasie Serich after intermission helped Poland extend their lead over the Pirates, 32-22.
Hughes, who had 11 points and a game-high 11 caroms, said the key was an overall team effort.
“Southeast is an excellent shooting team with a very good post player in [Shayna] White,” Hughes said. A triple and two free throws by Serich then helped Poland build a 41-24 advantage with 1:33 remaining.
The Bulldogs’ defense held the Pirates (15-7) to just a bucket by White over the first 6:27 of the final quarter.
White, whose 13 points and nine rebounds were tops for Southeast, scored four of the Pirates’ final six points.