Poland pulls past Cleveland Central Catholic

CANTON – Cleveland Central Catholic certainly passes the eye test.

Amongst their starters are 6-foot-9 Montel McRae, 6-7 Tervel Beck and 6-5 Antwon Lillard.

Thus, when Poland’s Jacob Wolfe (its tallest starter at 6-4) fouled out midway through the fourth quarter Thursday night, things looked bleak for the Bulldogs. Their outstanding effort, which had them in front 46-45 at the time of Wolfe’s departure, certainly would not be enough to hold off the Ironmen down the stretch.

If the Division II regional semifinal at the Canton Civic Center showed anything, it’s that one can’t be short-sighted with this Poland team.

Central Catholic tied the game immediately after Wolfe’s fifth foul before Kyle Dixon’s bank shot and George Chammas’ strong drive to the basket gave Poland a four-point lead. The Ironmen (19-7) would never have the ball with a chance to tie the rest of the way as Poland emerged with a 60-52 victory.

The Bulldogs (24-2), who won their 20th straight, will play Akron St.Vincent-St. Mary at 1 p.m Saturday. The Irish had nine dunks in a 68-52 victory over Mentor Lake Catholic in last night’s second game. Poland will be trying to reach the state tournament for the fifth time in school history and first since going in back-to-back years in 2007 and 2008.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is toughness, having mental toughness,” Poland coach Ken Grisdale said. “I know it hurts to have Jake off the floor, but this is a tough group.”

Wolfe led the cheering from the bench after doing a lot of damage in a short amount of time. He finished with 10 points and led all players with 11 rebounds despite playing less than six minutes in the second half.

“He’s our leader;” Dixon said. “The big thing he does is rebound. Me, Danny (Black) and George had the get the ball on the glass to make up for that.”

They more than made up for it. Dixon finished with 18 points and five assists, Black had 15 points and Chammas pulled down 10 boards. Beck led CCC with 18 points and Lillard added 12. Ironically, the Ironmen’s rebounding leader was 5-11 guard James Tell, who had eight. Tell is his team’s lone senior starter.

Poland came in with a clear-cut defensive game plan. The Bulldogs wanted to stay in a tight zone throughout. One of the biggest surprises was that Poland was able to consistently deny the entry pass into the low post.

“Ball pressure was the key to that,” Grisdale said. “If they did get it inside, we were going to double quickly.”

Central Catholic’s Jordan Duke, who was coaching just his third game after Jonathan Harris resigned citing personal reasons, said his team’s inability to use its size advantage on the offensive end was critical.

“Our guys kind of went away from what we do,” Duke said. “When we did do it we seemed to be successful. When you get away from something it’s kind of tough to get back into it.”

Dixon was just happy they stopped trying.

“That 6-9 dude, all they had to do it was throw it up and he’d get it,” Dixon said.

Poland led 14-11 after a quarter, 30-26 at half and 41-38 after three.

Desmond Crosby’s 3-pointer in the fourth got the Ironmen within 50-49 with 1:56 remaining but Dixon answered with a trey of his own 17 seconds later. The Bulldogs iced the contest at the line, making 7 of 8 foul shots down the stretch. Central Catholic made just 8 of 19 free throws on the night.