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Bulldogs bounced out of tournament by arch rival
March 4, 2020

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The Poland and Canfield boys basketball teams staged the rubber match of what turned into a three-game series last Friday night in Canfield.

Whenever these two schools meet personal pride amongst the players is always on the line. The stakes were pushed much higher in this last encounter, however. The Bulldogs visited the Cardinals with a Division II Youngstown District sectional championship hanging in the balance. Unfortunately for Bulldog Nation, last weekend's battle didn't end quite as joyfully as the previous one did.

On Feb. 21, Poland's boys rolled into Canfield and blasted the home team by 28 points. That win made amends for the loss that the Bulldogs suffered to the Cardinals at home earlier in the season. In this sectional title tilt, things started slowly for Poland and never got better. Poor shooting and poorer execution inside put the Bulldogs in a hole throughout the contest. A tremendous third period by the Cardinals turned a close game into a comfortable one as they sailed to a 50-41 victory. While number 4 seed Canfield moves into the district round of the playoffs, fifth-seeded Poland's season ends quietly with a 17-7 record. It had won 8 of 9 contests before losing to Canfield.

The first two quarters were played tightly with the Cardinals holding a 1-point lead after one period and a 20-18 lead at halftime. Even with that close score, Poland head coach Ken Grisdale was dismayed with how his club was cleaning the glass after missed shots by the Cardinals. There were many times when Poland had three players under the hoop as opposed to just one Canfield kid, but still wasn't able to corral the loose ball.

"Our defensive rebounding really hurt us, especially in the first half," Grisdale said.

Another asset of the game that bothered the Bulldogs was their outside shooting. In the last meeting with Canfield, the Bulldogs assaulted their hosts from 3-point range nailing a dozen triples. Over the first three quarters of the tournament match, Canfield held an 18-0 point advantage from beyond the arc. Poland wouldn't hit its first three until the start of the fourth quarter.

"We figured (Canfield) was going to take away those perimeter looks," Grisdale explained. "We knew we'd have to attack the basket, but we didn't do a good job finishing in the paint. We got into the paint a lot but didn't finish. We didn't finish shots at the basket and didn't finish rebounding. That hurt us because it was important to get a lead early and dictate tempo."

The only team that dictated tempo after intermission was Canfield. An 11-4 run by the hosts gave them a 31-22 lead heading into the final frame. Zach Kassem connected on that initial 3-pointer for Poland to start the fourth on the right foot, but Canfield's Trey Dye immediately answered on the other end to regain the momentum. The Bulldogs never were able to pull closer than seven points the rest of the way as their season fell short of a sectional crown.

Zach's twin brother Adam Kassem paced Poland with 12 points. Sophomore Michael Gordon scored 10 against Canfield. Gordon was the only Bulldog in double figures in their sectional semifinal win over Niles a few nights earlier. Poland won this decisive third meeting with the Red Dragons 52-28 on Feb. 25. The second half of this battle went way better for the Bulldogs than the one against Canfield did. Poland turned a 19-10 halftime lead into a blowout victory thanks to a 33-18 second half edge.

Seniors Michael Cougras, Josh Blasko, Stephen Carney and Blake Wilson will join the Kassem duo in this year's graduating class. Poland will still have major contributors Gordon, Andrew Centofanti, Brody Todd, J.P. Genova and Dom DeToro set to return next winter. Despite only winning one postseason game this year, the Bulldogs are just one season removed from a district championship. With the talent they have returning and with the crafty veteran Grisdale on the bench, it will be hard to bet against the Bulldogs being back in the thick of the district race again next March.

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