Bulldogs erase sting of disappointing tournament losses
By Steve Wilaj
It was a moment four years in the making, one that captured the Poland High boys basketball team’s journey over the past few seasons and finally put some disappointing losses aside.
Just seconds after the Bulldogs defeated Cardinal Mooney, 63-46, in the Division II district final at Warren Harding High School, Poland coach Ken Grisdale shared a moment of embrace with forward Jake Wolfe, hugging the senior captain and delivering to him a message.
“I just said, ‘Great job, I’m so proud of you,’ ” Grisdale said. “We’ve been through a lot. We lost two district championships in a row, [then] last year we got knocked out early and his confidence was down.
“So it’s taken this long to make him feel really good about playing basketball. And if he didn’t play the way he did tonight, who knows?” Grisdale said. “He carried us.”
Wolfe scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in leading the Bulldogs (23-2) to their first district championship victory since 2010.
On a team usually accustomed to a balanced attack, Wolfe sensed he had to take the reins against Mooney.
“We were struggling to score there for a while, so I knew I had to make some plays,” Wolfe said. “After I started taking it to the hole, everybody started to as well and gained some confidence.”
The win, Poland’s 19th in a row, avenged last season’s tournament loss to the Cardinals, something Wolfe admitted was on the Bulldogs’ minds throughout the season.
“The last three years, we failed,” he said. “Our goals are first to win the league championship and then win districts.
“So for my senior year to come out and get this done, it’s a big deal.”
Poland jumped out to an early 11-0 advantage and led 16-7 after the first quarter.
But Mooney cut the deficit to 25-20 at halftime.
Although the Cardinals (15-9) trailed by just eight points entering the fourth quarter, Mooney coach Brian Danilov felt his team missed its opportunity in the third quarter.
“There was a point when they couldn’t score and we couldn’t score and that was our opportunity to try to do something,” Danilov said. “And we just didn’t finish at the rim or anywhere else.”
Andrew Armstrong led the Cardinals with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Joe Cunningham scored 10 points for the Cardinals on 4-of-16 shooting. In all, Mooney shot a combined 30 percent (14 of 47) from the field.
“With this group, sometimes we have a hard time scoring,” Danilov said. “So coming out of the gate and not scoring hurt. We just missed a lot of easy shots.”
The Bulldogs finally put the game away early in the fourth with a 6-0 run to open the quarter. Wolfe scored on consecutive layups to spark the scoring burst.
“It was big because for a while the game was close and could have gone either way,” Wolfe said of the run. “But after losing to them last year, that really hurt and we knew we had to come get it tonight.”
Dan Black scored eight of his 18 points in the fourth to help close the game, while Jared Burkert connected on a key 3-pointer in the final minutes.
Kyle Dixon also finished with 10 points for Poland, which will play Cleveland Central Catholic on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Canton Civic Center.
“I’m extremely proud of the guys,” Grisdale said. “Last year Mooney got up in our grill, put us on our heels and showed us if you wanna be champs, you better not back up and come forward. So I was really proud of our kids to do that.”