As the top seed in the Boardman District of the Division II state tournament, the Poland Bulldogs were expected to earn a rematch with second-seeded Ursuline in the district championship.
The Irish dashed the Bulldogs' hope of advancing in last year's playoffs and kept up their end of the bargain this year when they upended No. 5 Girard Indians in their semifinal game March 9.
Poland, meanwhile, was pushed out of the postseason by Salem, 70-66, in the March 8 semifinal.
It didn't take long for the upstart Quakers to prove to Poland that they were serious about moving into the district championship.
Salem slammed the Bulldogs in the opening quarter, 18-1, putting Poland behind a mammoth-sized eight ball. Ten turnovers by the Bulldogs in the first period enabled sixth-seeded Salem to earn that enormous advantage.
"Give me that first quarter over," Bulldog head coach Ken Grisdale said following the loss.
It took until 10 seconds passed in the second period before Grisdale's kids scored their first field goal. That bucket was needed to keep Salem from making a 9-0 run to start the second stanza. At one point, the Quakers unbelievably led 25-3.
Things started to swing in Poland's favor midway through the same period. Pressing defense and three 3-pointers by Braeden O'Shaughnessy pulled Poland to within 31-23 at halftime.
After a fairly even third period, the Quakers kicked it in once again and built a 16-point lead with less than four minutes remaining in the contest. Finally, playing like the number-one seed, Poland made one last desperate run to get the deficit back to single digits late in the game.
Unfortunately, Grisdale's group couldn't get closer than that final four-point spread.
Seniors Kyle Patterson and Trent Lutz started their final high school games versus Salem and finished with 12 and three points, respectively.
The Bulldogs were paced in scoring by sensational sophomore O'Shaughnessy, who ended the game with a heroic 28 points. O'Shaughnessy also finished in the top 10 in scoring in the All-American Conference this year, so having him return next winter will be a shot in the arm for the team.
Another spectacular sophomore, Daniel Kramer, came home from Boardman with 16 points. He will team with O'Shaughnessy to form a mighty one-two scoring punch for Poland in 2017-18.
Junior Brandon Barringer put in seven points and should return for a solid senior season.
It's hard to characterize a team that finished with an 18-6 final record as anything but successful, but so much more was expected of these Bulldogs. Despite losing a huge chunk of their scoring from a year ago, Poland's move from the AAC Red Tier to White Tier was partially going to ease that burden.
Signature wins over Warren G. Harding, Canfield, Austintown Fitch and Struthers were impressive, and everyone in Bulldog Nation wanted one more shot at Ursuline. Atypically, fans will have to wait until next year for another opportunity.
Ursuline went on to capture its fourth straight Division II district championship with a 70-33 shellacking over Salem at Saturday's district final at Boardman High School.
The Irish (19-7) used a 24-2 advantage in the second quarter to open up the contest and coast to a 37-point victory.
Urusline are looking forward to the regional finals 6:15 p.m. tonight, when the Irish battle Cleveland Central Catholic (17-8) at Canton Memorial Civic Center.