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Lady Bulldogs unbeaten run ends against Akron team

March 13, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

Over 26 games this season it seemed as if there wasn't a more unstoppable force in Division II than the Poland girls basketball team.

Offensively, the Lady Bulldogs could bludgeon an opponent both in the paint and from beyond the three-point arc. Defensively, they held their foes to 33 points per game. That combination had the Bulldogs sitting 26-0 as they played Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary for a regional championship and a trip to the state Final Four last Friday night in Barberton. Unfortunately, that's where their unbeaten streak and championship dreams came to an end.

The Akron ladies upended Poland's season with a 56-46 triumph in the regional final. Although the year concluded a couple wins shy of a state tournament final appearance, head coach Nick Blanch was still elated for his group of girls.

"I couldn't be happier for this team," said Blanch shortly after the season ending setback. "We couldn't have asked for a better season."

During the first quarter against the Lady Irish, the 18-9 Irish jumped on the Bulldogs early to take a 19-12 lead. A 9 for 13 shooting performance in the first period aided their cause. St. V's also won the second quarter and took a 32-24 lead into intermission. A Poland gang that only averaged 33 points against all year had given up 32 to the Irish and suddenly found themselves in a huge halftime hole.

These Bulldogs didn't enter this regional round undefeated by accident however. They started to establish their defensive dominance in the third quarter and held St. V's to just six points. Poland doubled that output on the offensive end to close its deficit to two points after three periods.

Blanch's team continued their flurry into the fourth quarter and actually overtook the Irish to take a three-point lead with just six minutes remaining in the contest. When the Bulldogs began their run, they were down 13 points. That's when St. V's senior Mary Dobson did what she could to squash all of the good vibes the Bulldogs had built up. Dobson dumped nine points on Poland over the final five minutes of the game. Five of those points came from the foul line. Her steal and layup with 1:30 left in the game stretched the Irish's lead back out to five points.

While the Bulldogs went wild over the first 13 minutes of the second half, the Irish ended the night on a 16-5 run, including seven for eight from the charity stripe. Poland was done in from the field as it shot only 23.4 percent. The Irish also outrebounded Poland 32-11, which was an uncharacteristic outcome for the local kids.

Jackie Grisdale scored 18 points to pace Poland in the disappointing loss. Sarah Bury scored 13 points. It would be the final time Bury suited up for the Bulldogs as she is set to graduate this summer. Kat Partika, who nailed a huge three-pointer to finally give Poland its short-lived lead, also will say goodbye to Poland. Elena Cammack and Marlie McConnell are Poland's other two seniors on the roster. Their coach was sentimental when discussing this quartet afterwards.

"They lead by example," said Blanch. "They demanded that everyone gave their best efforts. I couldn't be prouder of a group of seniors."

Grisdale will headline a group of returnees who were major contributors to this season's amazing run. Amazingly, she'll still only be a junior next winter. Juniors Brooke Bobbey, Mia Gajdos, Kailyn Brown and Katie Masucci should all take over leadership roles as seniors. Freshman Morgan Kluchar also got her feet wet in varsity action and should see even more minutes in 2019/2020.

The fact that the Bulldogs swept straight through the Northeast 8 conference in the league's initial season also has Bulldog Nation salivating for year two. With the talent that is expected to return, and the strong lineage Poland has at developing youngsters, another league crown and a spectacular run through the sectionals and districts seems destine.



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