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Poland ladies sizzle their way to another sectional title

February 26, 2020
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

Poland's girls basketball team had already beaten Struthers by a combined score of 109-79 this season so when the two schools met again in the Division II Austintown District sectional finals another blowout was expected.

To nobody's surprise, the Lady Bulldogs beat up the Lady Wildcats by 56-43 last Thursday night at home, but don't let that 13-point margin of victory fool you. The Poland ladies had to scratch and claw to declaw the Wildcats and advance in the tournament.

"It was a great game and we earned the win," said Poland head coach Nick Blanch a few moments after the victory.

Article Photos

Jackie Grisdale hits her 1,000th career point on the court last Thursday in action against Struthers.

Thanks to that triumph, Blanch's bunch are back-to-back sectional champions and they began their quest to defend their district crown this past Wednesday night against Ravenna Southeast.

This sectional title game began sluggish for both sides. Perhaps it was some nerves, perhaps it was the malaise of meeting each other for the third time, but the opening quarter wasn't exactly a basketball clinic. The Bulldogs held an 11-7 lead after that first frame then had to hold off a second period charge by Struthers which saw the visitors close the gap to just two points at halftime. Coach Blanch was not the least bit shocked by how hard Struthers performed over the first 16 minutes.

"It was exactly what I expected," said the veteran coach. "It's a backyard rivalry and we knew (Struthers) would give us their best shot."

Fortunately for Blanch and Bulldog Nation, it was his side that hit more shots in the second half. A 12-6 run by Poland immediately after intermission stretched the lead to 38-30 heading into the fourth quarter. One of the biggest baskets by the Bulldogs over that time was off of the fingertips of junior star Jackie Grisdale. Her bucket in the middle of the third period not only kept Poland pumping, but it also resulted in pushing her above the incredible 1000 point plateau for her career. She's only the seventh Lady Bulldog to achieve that amazing feat and, considering she has one more season of eligibility remaining, Grisdale will have plenty of time to add to that terrific total. The sensational shooter finished the game with a team-high 19 points.

Ahead by eight points, Poland was able to play a little looser in the last period. The ultra-talented Bulldogs were too much for the Wildcats to handle down the stretch and it became apparent that they began to wear down. An 18-13 advantage by the home team over the final eight minutes proved that. Three other Poland players topped ten points for the night as well led by junior forward Ella Harrell who scored 12 points. Seniors Kailyn Brown and Brooke Bobbey were next up with 11 and 10 points respectively.

Wednesday's district semifinal at Fitch High School had all of the makings of a very interesting battle. Southeast played its ball in Division III a year ago so the matchup with Poland in the playoffs was an unfamiliar one. Like the Bulldogs, the Lady Pirates were district champions last season. Unlike their adversary, they were not able to win a game in the regional round. The third seeded Pirates upended Girard 44-37 in their sectional championship round. That's the same Girard squad that Poland pulverized by a combined score of 110-61 this year. There was one school in which both the Bulldogs and Pirates played in 2020. Each team clashed with Cardinal Mooney within a one week span this past January. Poland clipped the Lady Cardinals 59-42 on Jan. 18 while Southeast stopped them 57-47 exactly a week later. If the 21-2 Bulldogs get by the Pirates as many expect, they will then go for their second straight district crown versus the winner of the game between top seeded West Branch and number 4 Salem. A rematch with West Branch would certainly bring the crowd to Austintown on Feb. 29. Poland eliminated the Lady Warriors 34-29 last winter in the district semis. Another meeting with even higher stakes this week would definitely be considered a grudge match.



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