WARREN - Everything was going Ravenna's way in the third quarter of Wednesday's Division II district semifinal at Warren G. Harding High School.
The Ravens, who trailed by as many as 12 in the first period, were in the midst of an 11-3 run that gave them their first lead of the night. A pair of foul shots and a basket by 6-foot-8 senior Michael Boltz put Ravenna in front by four.
Then came perhaps the biggest play of the game. Senior forward Ty-Shaun Dukes committed an ill-advised foul, his fourth of the game, with 2 minutes, 50 seconds remaining.
Dukes exited the contest. When he came back, Poland had run off 15 unanswered points and paved the way to a 64-52 victory. The top-seeded Bulldogs (22-2) advanced to Saturday's district title game where they will meet the winner of tonight's contest between Canfield and Cardinal Mooney.
"Huge," said Ravenna coach Phil Starks when asked what kind of impact Dukes' departure had on the outcome. "He's been our leading scorer all season. They look for him a lot. He does a lot of things that go unnoticed. It hurt us."
Poland point guard Nick Gajdos - who finished with nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals - agreed.
"It was big because he was playing well, getting offensive rebounds and attacking the rim," Gajdos said.
Kyle Dixon and Dan Black paced the Bulldogs with 15 points apiece while Jared Burkett came off the bench to finish with 12. Those three and Gajdos are all underclassmen. Senior Jacob Wolfe finished with seven points, 15 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and two steals. Dukes was his team's lone double-digit scorer with 14 points. Guard Warren Bradley pulled down 13 boards for the Ravens, who closed their season at 14-10.
"Bottom line is you gotta win; you gotta advance," said Poland coach Ken Grisdale. "If you win by one, you win by one. If you win pretty, you win pretty. It all counts the same."
The first quarter, from the Bulldogs' point of view, was pretty. Poland scored the first eight points and led 19-7 at the buzzer behind Dixon's nine points.
The ensuing frame left a lot to be desired from an aesthetic point of view. Poland missed all but one of their 15 field goals in the quarter and made just 6 of 16 foul shots in the opening half. By the time intermission arrived, the Bulldogs' lead had shrunk to 24-22.
"We were just on the verge of exploding, but we exploded the wrong way," Grisdale said. "We were a mess most of the time. The free throws and the missed easy shots, they really got in our heads. We were our worst enemy tonight."
Gajdos said it wasn't easy heading to halftime after such an awful quarter.
"(It was) real difficult," he said. "We just had to relax, take our time, make our free throws."
After Dukes' exit, the Bulldogs took over. They scored the final 13 points of the quarter to lead 46-37. Black began the final stanza scoring with a pair of foul shots. After Dukes returned, Steven Andrews nailed a 3-pointer, closing out an 18-0 run and giving Poland a 51-37 lead. The Ravens would not get closer than 12 the rest of the way.
Poland will be matched up Saturday with either a league rival (Canfield) or a territorial one (Mooney). When asked whom he'd rather play, Gajdos wasted no time in replying, "No answer."