By Ryan Buck
Leading All-American Conference American Division adversary Poland, 36-32 after a dynamic 8-0 run to finish the third quarter, Beaver Local coach Jake Walgate had a stern warning for his team in the huddle between periods.
“Be ready for their run,” Walgate said. “It’s coming.”
Beaver Local had stifled the potent Poland offense for much of the evening and forced Bulldogs standout Jacob Wolfe into foul trouble late in the third quarter.
The Beavers capitalized on turnovers, turning many into fast-break points. Senior guard Troy Hudson’s runner off the glass and ensuing assist to a cutting Chase Hilliard on a fast break gave Beaver Local a four-point lead before the final eight minutes.
But Walgate’s forewarning proved tragically prophetic for the visiting Beavers (7-4).
“I just think that our kids believe that they should win,” said Poland coach Ken Grisdale. “They weren’t going to allow that (Beaver Local) four-point lead to get them down.”
The Bulldogs (9-0) dominated on the defensive end and knocked down free throws to grind out a 54-42 victory last night at the Poland High Fieldhouse.
An undefeated season and dreams of a conference crown were in serious jeopardy.
“They knew what was at stake,” Grisdale said. “We really put a lot of emphasis on winning the league this year. I think tradition helps a lot. The kids believe they can and they will.”
Poland held Beaver Local to six fourth-quarter points. The Beavers’ athleticism had broken Poland’s full-court press in the third, so a defensive change was in order.
“The press wasn’t working for us, so our coach decided to push back and go man-to-man and it worked better for us,” said Poland junior guard Steven Andrews, who came off the bench for five critical points late in the game. “They weren’t able to run the floor as well and we were able to get turnovers off that.”
Andrews’ three-point play off a missed 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs a 41-38 lead with 5 minutes left. Poland stayed in front from that point.
“We never gained our composure back,” Walgate said. “We kind of faltered there. We had some unforced turnovers, expecting the traps to come. We got ourselves into some holes and then Poland did what Poland does and they pounced on it.”
With under 3 minutes left, Andrews fired a pass through the Beavers’ defense and found George Chammas for an easy layup and a 45-41 advantage.
“Tonight was his night to give us the solid minutes that we needed,” Grisdale said of Andrews.
Wolfe returned to the game early in the fourth and made his presence known. The junior forward knocked down four free throws in the final minutes to extend the lead.
“I missed some earlier and I really focused on the mechanics and hit them,” Wolfe said.
Beaver Local pressured the Bulldogs into 12 first half turnovers. Ten of Hudson’s team- high 15 points came courtesy of fast-break layups off those miscues.