By Joe Catullo Jr.
Poland’s (Jacob) Wolfe nearly became a goat on Friday night. Instead, he finished as the top (Bull)dog.
The senior missed two crucial free throws with 3.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter against Austintown Fitch, but didn’t let it get the best of him.
“I knew I had to make those up,” Wolfe said. “If I make those free throws, we win in regulation. I knew I had to come back strong.”
With the score tied in overtime and less than two minutes remaining, Wolfe made back-to-back layups to take control and the Falcons never recovered, falling to Poland for the second time this season, 60-54.
“He’s a kid that we count on,” Poland coach Ken Grisdale said. “We try to get the ball in his hands, whether he’s looking to score or press. He can do anything that we need him to do. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do.”
Wolfe finished with a team-high 20 points (14 in the first quarter) and paced the Bulldogs (13-2, 8-1) despite scoring two points in the second half.
Throughout the third quarter and early in the fourth, Poland’s defense overcame Wolfe’s struggling half. The Bulldogs led, 45-36, at the 6:02 mark.
Jessie Driver led Fitch (11-2, 8-2) on a 13-4 scoring run that sent the game into overtime.
“When we were down by nine, the kids just started chipping away,” Fitch coach Brian Beany said. “It was one possession at a time. We missed a couple of big free throws [and] some wide-open 3s. When opportunities arise, you have to take advantage.”
The Falcons wasted another huge opportunity when Driver was called for traveling with 1:24 left in overtime. Fitch trailed 56-54 at that point. Wolfe then made his second layup, followed by a Nick Gajdos layup that sealed the victory.
“You just can’t turn it over in that situation. You just can’t do that,” Beany said. “Against a good team like Poland, you have to value every possession. We didn’t do that at times.”
While the Falcons had no answer for Wolfe in the first half and overtime, the Bulldogs could not find a solution against Driver throughout. He finished with 26 points and nine rebounds, both game-highs.
Grisdale pulled Driver over during the postgame handshakes.
“I said ‘Jessie, you are awesome,’” Grisdale said. “We had no answer for him. Thank goodness he didn’t want it every time because he’s such a good kid. He’s special.”
Alex DiFrancesco added 10 points and Michael Butcher had eight for Fitch. For Poland, Dan Black scored 13 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Kyle Dixon and Jared Burkert each tallied 11.
“Once the heart rate slows down, I think I’ll be able to sleep pretty good tonight,” Grisdale said. “Last year in this situation, I think we would have caved. But this year, we’ve been working on staying mentally tough and staying together.”