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Poland boys bounced out of tournament in regional round

March 20, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

A sensational season for the Poland boys basketball team was stopped a couple wins short of a trip to the state Final Four.

Poland's boys were beaten 60-51 by Akron Buchtel last Wednesday night at the Canton Civic Center in the Division II Regional semifinals. That setback snapped Poland's electrifying 18-game winning streak that started after the New Year flipped. It also sent Buchtel into the regional finals where it will encounter Cleveland Villa Angela St. Joe's on Friday night. Meanwhile, the Poland men had to make good with what was an otherwise terrific campaign.

"I'm very proud of all of our guys," said Poland head coach Ken Grisdale who completed his 26th year as the Bulldogs' bench boss. "They competed their tails off."

That competitiveness was evident in the first half as Poland played Buchtel tough. The Griffins held a 16-13 lead after one period. That advantage would stretch to as many as 9 points before Poland went on an 11-6 run to cut its deficit back down to 33-29 at halftime. Despite only trailing by two buckets, Grisdale believed it could have gone better for his bunch.

"We had opportunities," said Grisdale. "We could have closed (the gap) and gone ahead."

The only ones who were ahead after intermission were the referees. For whatever reason, the zebras seemingly decided to call a foul on every breath in the third period. That closely called officiating resulted in a total of 15 points being scored in the third. The Bulldogs had 29 total fouls for the game while Buchtel committed 19 infractions. Although the local kids were successful on 16 of 24 free throws compared to 21 for 37 by the Griffins, they still weren't able to come from behind.

Down 41-36 entering the final frame, the Bulldogs took advantage of the unorthodox officiating. Two of Buchtel's best players were on the bench due to being one more infraction away from disqualification. That enabled Poland to get to within three points with just 4:30 left in the game. Inadequate shooting by the Bulldogs in the waning moments, however, brought their incredible season to a halt.

"Unfortunately, the ball didn't fall the way we needed," Grisdale said.

The ball did fall more often than not for senior Braeden O'Shaughnessy who led Poland in scoring with 25 points. Fellow senior Daniel Kramer also tried to keep his team close with 15 points, eight rebounds and two steals. Both O'Shaughnessy and Kramer are four year letter winners at Poland and will be sorely missed.

"They mean everything to our program," said Grisdale about his dynamic duo. "They are the players that teammates looked up to. They are two special guys."

Jeff McAuley, Steve Bannon, Collin Todd and Jacob Hryb are the other four seniors on the Bulldogs' roster. McAuley and Bannon both sank a hoop last Wednesday in their farewells.

Junior Adam Kassem scored five points in Poland's defeat and he should lead a good pack of players who return as seniors next winter. Michael Cougras also played a major role in Grisdale's lineup all season and he should be even sharper as a senior. Sophomore Andrew Centofanti saw some time in the regional semi and should vie for a starting spot as a junior.

Poland's 23 wins this winter enabled it to earn an unbeaten record in the infant Northeast 8 Conference. The Bulldogs should be enormous favorites to repeat in the league's sophomore season. A sectional and district title were also captured by the Bulldogs. Anything short of those accomplishments for the Poland guys in 2019/2020 will be surprising.



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