Depth allows Poland to hold off Raiders
BEAVER TOWNSHIP — With a little more depth, a little more balance and strong leadership when things got tight, the Poland High School girls basketball team kept pulling away from a gritty South Range squad in a key Northeast-8 Conference contest Monday night.
It all added up to a 51-36 victory for the visiting Bulldogs, who improved to 11-2 overall and 8-0 in conference action.
“(South Range is) not as deep as we are, and we tried to take advantage of that,” Poland coach Nick Blanch said. “We know as the game goes on, we’ll have more legs left because we can rotate a bit more than they can.
“They’re an excellent ballclub, and they play extremely hard. We knew it was going to be a challenge, but we tried to put the pedal to the metal as each quarter closed. And as the game wore on, you could tell that came into effect. Sometimes it works like you plan it.”
Down the stretch in each quarter, Poland flexed its advantage. The Bulldogs outscored South Range a combined 27-4 in the closing minutes, which totaled up to 9:41 of game clock.
“Give Poland a lot of credit,” said South Range coach Jeff Fishel, whose team’s record dipped to 9-5 overall and 5-2 in the league. “They’re just deeper than us. We talk about trying to finish quarters, and tonight we weren’t able to do that because of what Poland was bringing at us. Our girls played hard, and I’m proud of the effort, but we just couldn’t finish.”
Blanch was pleased with his team’s overall play that led to some extra space in the league standings.
“This gives us some cushion because if we lost this game, we’d be tied in the standings,” he said. “So now we have some wiggle room, not that we want to take advantage of it, but by the same token, it’s nice to have.”
With the game tied at six in the first quarter, Poland used a 6-2 run in the final 2:25 to lead 12-8 entering the second period.
A 3-pointer by Lexi Giles pulled the hosts within 16-15 midway through the second quarter, but the Bulldogs scored the final six points for a 22-15 halftime edge. Jackie Grisdale scored seven of her game-high 19 points in the quarter.
“The nice part about it is that we have girls stepping up around Jackie,” Blanch said. “She’s our leader and everybody knows that, but there’s never a consistent top two because somebody different is making key contributions around her. We have a different leading rebounder and pretty much a different assist leader almost every game, depending on the matchups.
“They all play defense and fill their roles. The little things, which may not garner the attention of a lot of people who only look at scoring, are important to us. We had a lot of girls playing out of their comfort zone tonight defensively to slow (South Range’s) offense. We forced a ton of turnovers that led to points, and those girls aren’t getting that recognition. I really like this group and the things that we do well as a team. We need those things to be successful.”
The Raiders immediately cut the gap in the third quarter, using drives by Mallory Vidman and Bree Kohler to get within 22-19, and the Poland lead was 30-25 before the Bulldogs scored the final five of the period to lead 35-25. In the fourth quarter, South Range’s leading scorer, Giles, had a leg cramp and missed over 3 minutes as Poland stretched the lead to 41-27 with 4:40 left.
The Raiders got within 41-33, as Izzy Lamparty went on a personal 6-0 run. But Poland closed the game with a 10-2 spurt in the final 1:44, as Brooke Bobbey made her fourth 3-pointer of the contest, and Grisdale made seven of eight free throws.
Bobbey finished with 13 points, and Morgan Kluchar added six.
“My shots were falling tonight, so I kept shooting when I got open looks,” Bobbey said. “We work together well as a team, and we were able to limit South Range and we frustrated them offensively because of our team defense. Offensively, we feel if you shut down one of us, one of the other four will pick up the slack. Teams have to defend all of us.
“This was a great atmosphere to play in, and that’s going to help us prepare for the big games and tournament at the end of the year. We took it as a challenge because we knew (South Range was) going to really try to push us hard.”
Giles led the Raiders with 13 points and Lamparty added 12.
“Giles was trying to will us to a win, but her calf cramped up there in the fourth quarter, and that’s going to happen,” Fishel said. “She played so hard and she’s been playing really well. Her effort tonight was outstanding.
“We struggled with turnovers, but Poland gives everyone trouble like that. That’s a tough defense to simulate in practice and prepare for. They’ve got so many defenses, and they change it up almost every time down the floor. They’re quick, athletic and smart. They anticipate so well what you’re going to do. Their quickness and intelligence makes them a very dangerous team.”