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Poland boys make the most of their second chance

May 29, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

The Poland baseball team wasn't even supposed to be in the Division II Struthers District Finals.

Poland's boys were eliminated from the post season a week earlier by Hubbard after all. Thanks to the Eagles being ejected from the tournament for playing games in Tennessee while school was in session, the Bulldogs were afforded a second chance. A narrow 8-7 win over Niles in the district semifinal sent the Bulldogs into the championship where they hooked up with arch nemesis and number one seed Canfield. No doubt, the Cardinals wished Poland never received its reprieve.

In a game that started on Wednesday and finished on Thursday the Bulldogs fought from behind then fended off a late Canfield rally to win the district 8-7 at Cene Park. The 20-6 Bulldogs captured their first district crown since 2016 and stopped Canfield's two year district championship streak. Left for dead two weeks ago, the Bulldogs have now risen from the grave to advance to the Hudson Regional.

"Winning a district title feels great," said Poland head coach Rich Murray after the game. "It's been a couple years."

It was a couple days between the start of the title game and the finish. Poland led its old rival 2-1 in the bottom of the third when heavy rain halted the action. When the game resumed 24 hours later, the Cardinals quickly tied things up. The top seeded birds then scored the contest's next four runs to take a 6-2 lead into the fifth inning. That's when the Poland players came to life. With their backs to the walls the Bulldogs brought home four runs in the top of the fifth to tie the game. Jeremy Castro brought home a run with a ground out to get things going. Zach Yaskulka, M.J. Farber and Mike Kushner would also knock in runs in that fateful fifth. Castro would end the game with three RBIs.

Poland was leading the game by a run when Canfield came up for its final at bat in the bottom of the seventh. The Cardinals got their first two batters on base, but a failed sacrifice bunt attempt turned into a Poland double play. One batter later, Kushner struck out Canfield's Dom Magliocca to propel Poland into the regionals. If it wasn't for the work of Kushner in relief of starting pitcher Jared Knight, Poland may have been the team packing its bags for the season. The junior hurler worked 3 1/3 innings giving up three hits and striking out three.

"(Kushner) has stepped up all year for us," marveled Murray. "We felt confident putting him out there."

Coach Murray also felt his confidence build when he saw his boys battle back from a large deficit against the two time defending district champs.

"We never gave up," he said.

The Bulldogs didn't give up in the semifinal showdown with Northeast 8 conference rival Niles either. With the score tied at seven in the top of the seventh, Yaskulka bombed a solo home run to give his team the final margin of victory. The junior first baseman finished 2 for 4 with two RBIs and a run scored. Castro was a perfect 4 for 4 with three doubles, three ribbies and a run.

Alex Barth won the game in relief for Poland. He gave up a lone unearned run and three hits in two innings.

Murray's men will meet 22-6 Gates Mills Gilmour Academy on May 30 in the Hudson Regional semifinals. Gilmour Academy was the top seed in the Gates Mills District and won its championship by wiping out Chardon 10-0. The winner of this game, which starts at 5 p.m. at The Ballpark in Hudson, will meet the winner of the battle between Cleveland Benedictine and Tallmadge on Friday for the right to advance to the state Final Four.



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