despite foul woes
By Joe Scalzo
Poland senior Jacob Wolfe went to the bench, slammed the back of his chair and screamed.
There were six minutes left in the third quarter of Thursday’s Division II regional semifinal and the Bulldogs’ best player had just picked up his fourth foul.
Poland’s challenge was obvious: get tough or get beat.
“One of the things we talked a lot about this year was toughness — mental toughness,” Bulldogs coach Ken Grisdale said. “I thought that was something that caught up to us last year.”
Not Thursday. Thanks to 18 points from Kyle Dixon, 15 from Danny Black and a smart, disciplined game plan, the Bulldogs held off Cleveland Central Catholic for a 60-52 victory at the Canton Civic Center.
“We honestly, truly believed we could come up here and play with them,” Dixon said. “Coach said earlier in the week, ‘If you believe you’re going to win, you’re going to win.’”
The game’s biggest play came with the Bulldogs clinging to a 50-49 lead with 1:40 left. Poland junior guard Nick Gajdos found Dixon in the right corner for a 3-pointer, giving the Bulldogs some breathing room in what had been a tight fourth quarter.
After the Ironmen split a pair of free throws on the other end, Poland drained the clock, forcing Central to foul with 43 seconds left. Jared Burkert made two free throws, Central missed on the other end and Black then split a pair of free throws to make it 56-50.
After another Ironmen miss, Gajdos hit two free throws with 8.8 seconds left to end the suspense.
“I think we did a good job of trying to stay in there and fight back,” said Central coach Jordan Duke, who took over as head coach before the district semifinals after head coach Jonathan Harris unexpectedly resigned. “At the end, shots didn’t fall for us.
“I can’t really fault them for anything. They played their hearts out.”
Despite playing just six minutes in the second half, Wolfe finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds for Poland (24-2), which will meet Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Irish defeated Mentor Lake Catholic, 68-52, in Thursday’s other semifinal.
“Obviously, Jake is one of the most important players on our team; he’s our leader,” Dixon said. “We couldn’t let it affect us. We had to keep playing.”
The Bulldgs made 10 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter and did not commit a turnover, holding Central to 5 of 15 shooting from the field.
While most of Grisdale’s school-record 367 wins have come by playing man-to-man, he relied mostly on a 2-3 zone on Thursday with a little 3-2 mixed in against the Ironmen, who boast seven players 6-foot-3 or taller.
The biggest of that bunch, 6-foot-9 junior Montel McRae, had just five points and five rebounds, while 6-7 sophomore Tervell Beck had 18 points and 6-5 junior Antwon Lillard had 12.
“I’m very pleased with our game plan Àú [assistant] Chad Fender did an awesome job,” Grisdale said. “We’re not a zone team but you do what you’ve got to do.
“We didn’t want to come up [and pressure] because we didn’t want to open up seams for them to get to the rim. I thought the kids did a really good job.”