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Poland boys still have a slim chance

February 5, 2020
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

There's just a handful of games remaining in the regular season and the Poland boys basketball team finds itself in a very unfamiliar position.

A 36-35 loss at home to Struthers on January 24 has dropped the Poland kids into second place in the Northeast 8 Conference. That loss was followed by the Bulldogs' narrow 48-46 setback to Girard last Friday night. They are now 7-3 in the league and are staring up at 9-1 Struthers. Poland will most likely need to win out in the NE8 and get a ton of help if it wants to defend its league crown.

The Bulldogs did bounce back from that heartbreaking setback to Struthers by shutting down South Range 51-38 last Tuesday night in Poland. A sluggish first quarter saw the home team take a 9-4 lead. While Poland reached double-digits in the second quarter, the Raiders remained in singles scoring just five points. The Bulldogs led this low-scoring affair at halftime 19-9. Considering how offensively challenged both sides seemed to be in this outing, Poland's 18-point third period looked like an offensive explosion. That output pushed Poland's advantage to 15-points heading into the final frame. With the way the Raiders were shooting, that lead would be insurmountable. Although the Bulldogs' weren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard either, they did do a lot of damage from beyond the 3-point arc. They nailed seven triples with three each coming off the fingertips of senior guards Josh Blasko and Michael Cougras. Blasko paced Poland for the game with 14 points. Cougras came up with 12 points. Senior Adam Kassem collected eight points while his twin Zach hit Poland's other three ball and finished with seven. The Bulldogs also brought in 32 rebounds to just 20 for South Range. That disadvantage on the glass stymied South Range's second chance opportunities off of missed shots.

Against Struthers, it was the Bulldogs who got two big shots to win the game in the closing moments but came up short. It was the second thrilling outcome between the two rivals this season. Back on January 3 at the Struthers Fieldhouse the Bulldogs nipped their hosts 57-56. That means that the two tilts between the schools this season were decided by a total of two points. It will be a shame if the Bulldogs and Wildcats don't get a chance at staging a third showdown in the Division II tournament. Adam Kassem scored a dozen points in this loss to lead the Bulldogs. Cougras was up next with 9 points. Freshman guard J.P. Genova continued his impressive rookie campaign with eight points.

Getting back to the NE8 race, Poland's side of things appeared to be simple. The stunning loss to the Indians last weekend has clouded things, however. Poland will play at Lakeview, at Jefferson and then host Hubbard in a one-week period. Those three teams have combined to go 10-17 in the conference this year and have already lost to Poland by the lopsided total score of 174-116. It will also meet up with 2-8 (in the NE8) Niles before February concludes. The Wildcats, on the other hand, also play the Red Dragons after meeting Jefferson, South Range and Hubbard. So, Struthers' league schedule isn't very challenging either. A miracle may be needed for the Bulldogs to bring down the Wildcats for first place, but a rubber match in the playoffs would be something Poland is very much looking forward to.



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