POLAND - The Cleveland Central Catholic Ironmen are a basketball team that you can look up to - literally.
Seven of the 14 players listed on the Ironmen's roster stand 6-foot-3 or taller. Their big three of Tervell Beck, Montel McRae and Antwon Lillard form an imposing front line at 6-7 (Beck), 6-9 (McRae) and 6-5 (Lillard).
It presents an interesting dilemma for Poland Bulldogs coach Ken Grisdale. The Bulldogs and Ironmen meet tonight at 6:15 p.m. at the Canton Civic Center in a Division II regional semifinal.
"Defensively we'll have to play a good game, whether man or zone, to protect the paint," Grisdale said. "They like to penetrate to their big kids and finish around the rim. Their guards are decent, too. They put you in a quandary. I'd rather them hit the deep shot than get the ball inside."
Beck and Lillard are both sophomores, and McRae is a junior. Beck is ranked among the top three sophomores in Ohio.
It will be important for the 23-2 Bulldogs, who defeated the Cardinal Mooney Cardinals in the Warren district final, to avoid a bad start. The Ironmen (18-6) have assumed sizable early leads in their tournament wins, including a 26-13 halftime lead over Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in a district final.
"Early on we have to contain them," Grisdale said. "We're not going to stop them. Every game we've watched on tape they get a real big start. I don't know if the other team gets comfortable, but they fight back and it gets close. We have to play a good first quarter."
Grisdale talked to LaBrae coach Chad Kiser and Tallmadge coach Mike Bluey for scouting reports. Both coaches were on the losing side of games against the Ironmen.
Bluey confirmed what Grisdale saw on tape concerning the ability of opponents to make a game out of what shaped up as a rout in the first quarter.
"The Tallmadge coach said that after they (the Ironmen) jumped on them, their kids realized they were able to relax and deal with their speed," Grisdale said. "Once they relaxed, they felt they could compete with them. We can't give them transition baskets or offensive rebounds. That will kill you."
Poland played about as well as Grisdale could have hoped for in a 63-46 win over Mooney. The Bulldogs took an 11-0 lead and held off several charges by the Cardinals.
"The kids listened and executed the game plan we put in," Grisdale said. "We got the monkey off our back because we had been to the final two years prior and lost both to Struthers."
Senior leader Jacob Wolfe will be asked to step up again, but he'll need plenty of help from his teammates. No one-man gang will take down the Ironmen.
"Definitely," Grisdale said. "We've been balanced all year. Jake picked it up when he had to, but we'll need balance. (Kyle) Dixon and (Jared) Burkert all have to be hot, and (George) Chammas and (Steven) Andrews. Our guards are going to have to get into the paint and kick it out for the shooters. There will be more of a perimeter attack than inside because of the tall trees down in there."
It's not a cliche to say the Bulldogs face a tall order.