SVSM holds off Poland for regional title

SVSM holds off Poland; Grisdale: ‘It’s not right’

By Tom Williams


Trailing by eight points early, Poland sophomore Jared Burkert ignited an 8-0 run that stunned Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

After Burkert hit a jump shot and senior Jacob Wolfe connected from long range, Burkert made some jaws drop with a baseline 3-pointer that tied the game.

But Burkert’s shot awoke a sleeping, angry giant and the Irish soon seized control. The Bulldogs spent the rest of Saturday’s Division II regional championship game at the Canton Memorial Civic Center chasing, getting as close as three points before SVSM pulled away for a 54-42 victory.

The final score doesn’t reveal just how close the Bulldogs (24-3) came to earning their fifth trip to Columbus. With 1:34 remaining, Poland trailed, 44-40.

Nothing went right after that, then frustration spilled over.

As the players waited for the game to resume, Poland junior guard Kyle Dixon was standing next to SVSM’s Josh Williams, then was sprawled on the court.

“Elbow right to his jaw,” Wolfe said. “The referee was looking right there. I mean there was no doubt about it.”

No foul was assessed.

“When you’re St. Vincent-St. Mary, you don’t get those called on you,” Wolfe suggested. “If you are Poland Seminary ...”

Poland head coach Ken Grisdale said the explanation he was given is that none of the officials saw any contact.

“And he looks at me and goes, ‘Are you proud of the way you coached your team?’” Grisdale said. “It’s wrong. It isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Four out of [their] five starters aren’t even Ohio kids.”

Moments later, with a pass sailing out of bounds, SVSM forward Johnnie Robinson caught it in the air and was awarded a timeout before he landed out of bounds.

The Bulldogs couldn’t hit a shot down the stretch and the Irish closed with a 10-2 run that included eight free throws. Poland walked away with its second regional loss to SVSM in five seasons.

In 21 seasons as Poland head coach, Grisdale never has taken a loss so hard. In addition to officiating, he’s frustrated with the Ohio School Athletic Association system that has public schools competing against private schools based solely on enrollment.

“We have the best Division II public school team in Ohio,” Grisdale said. “It’s not right.

“They bust their ass, they do everything right and you’ve got to deal with that horsecrap,” said Grisdale whose team lost a state semifinal game to SVSM in 2002. “I’m tired of working our tail off and someone [else] can go get a kid from West Virginia or Virginia.

“And you’ve got to play them — it’s not right.”

Grisdale said the Irish earned the victory.

“I told my kids that there is no excuse; they beat us,” Grisdale said. “They are a better team. [But] that’s not what high school athletics is supposed to be about.

“Until people start waking up. I mean, I don’t know how taxpayers in the state of Ohio or [a] public school system, how they deal with this.

“It’s wrong.”

Stunned by Poland’s 8-0 run to close the first quarter, the Irish (19-8) seized control of the game with a 9-3 second quarter. Wolfe’s 3-pointer a minute into the second quarter gave Poland its last lead, 18-17.

Jibri Blount then stole the ball and dunked it. Jalen Hudson and Blount added baskets and King a free throw for a 26-18 halftime lead.

Poland went more than eight minutes without a point until Wolfe sank another 3-pointer early in the third quarter.

“We never gave up,” said Wolfe who led the Bulldogs with 11 points. “That’s the thing about this team — I’m so proud of everyone. No one gave up until the final whistle blew.

“We hustle as hard as any team in the state of Ohio,” Wolfe said. “We missed some shots there at the end — if we could have made a few ...”

George Chammas agreed.

“The shots didn’t fall, it doesn’t always go your way, but we fought hard until the end,” said Chammas who finished with six points and eight rebounds. “And that’s all that I care about — we gave it our all.”

Burkert came off the bench to score 10 points. Nick Gajdos had seven points and Danny Black six.

“He’s made big shots all year for us,” Grisdale said of Burkert. “He does great things for us, but there were other people screening for him, there were other people passing to him.”

For the Irish, King led with 14 points and Williams netted 11. Hudson, a Virginia Tech recruit, was limited to nine.

“I am so proud of the way my kids competed,” Grisdale said. “[The Irish] are good players. But they are not Ohio players.”

The Irish made 19 of 36 shots while the Bulldogs made 15 of 50.

“We had shots,” Grisdale said. “It’s just disappointing. I just wish people would have to look these kids in the eyes.

“I don’t get on officials often but it’s just a matter of they can walk away, they don’t have to deal with the aftermath,

“I thought they did a decent job for the most part, I really did,” Grisdale said of the referees. “I just thought that there were some things that they let happen. It’s kind of like if we had done that, they probably could have called an intentional foul.”

Grisdale said he would love to see SVSM head coach Dru Joyce work with a public school team.

“Dru Joyce, come coach a team that you’ve got to work with rather than some AAU [prepped squad],” Grisdale challenged.

After three years of losing in the district tournament, Wolfe and Chammas tasted the regional in their final season and just fell short of going to state.

“We didn’t want it to end, not like this,” Wolfe said. “It just hurts that we couldn’t win this one.”

Grisdale acknowledged that his comments aren’t going to make him friends with those in high places.

“I’ve taken it for 21 years,” Grisdale said. “It isn’t right. You look at my kids and they did everything we asked them to all year.

“I don’t know how they can justify ... if [privates] want to play [with out-of district players], put them in Division I where they deserve to be,” Grisdale said. “They can’t win it there so they don’t want to go there.”

Grisdale said he doubts the system will change unless coaches get a say.

“There’s got to be a better way.”

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