Poland breaks game wide open
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CANTON -- Avon High boys basketball coach Jim Baker spewed the "Hoosiers" clich & eacute;s. He talked about not being overwhelmed by Poland's reputation, the game's magnitude or even the size of the Civic Center.
But there are some things you can't plan for. Like a few hundred Poland fans decked out in 1980s workout clothes sitting directly behind your bench.
"I felt sorry for them," Bulldogs coach Ken Grisdale said. "Our fans are weird, but they're a lot of fun."
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, knew what to expect, having won last year's regional title here.
They were loose. Comfortable. Ready.
And when Poland senior Jonathan Habuda walked out for pregame warmups, he sensed the Eagles were nervous.
"You could tell when you looked in their eyes," Habuda.
The Bulldogs smelled blood. Then they drew it.
Leading 11-8 midway through the first quarter, Poland used a 14-0 run to break the game open and cruised to a 64-52 victory in Thursday's Division II regional semifinal.
"We played an outstanding basketball team," said Baker, whose team last made it to the regional tournament in 1969. "I'm disappointed that our ride is over, but when you lose to a team like that, you learn from it. You don't have to feel that bad."
The Bulldogs will play Canton South in Saturday's regional final at the Civic Center. Poland beat the Wildcats in last year's regional semifinal. South defeated Cleveland Benedictine, coached by Bob Patton, 58-48 in Thursday's first game.
"If you haven't been here before, it's a different situation," Grisdale said. "I think you have to get your feet wet."
Habuda played sparingly during last year's state tournament run, but has developed into one of the Bulldogs' best players.
He started well Thursday, scoring 10 of his 20 points in the first quarter.
"For the first couple shots, I wasn't thinking and I shot them with a hand in my face," Habuda said. "I was hoping they'd go in."
"He was outstanding," Grisdale said of Habuda. "I told him before the game to just relax and let it go. I think the last couple games he's been thinking instead of playing."
The Bulldogs took a 34-19 halftime lead, then began the third quarter with an 8-0 run. Avon slowly crawled back, but never got within single digits.
Junior Trey Baker and senior Bret Simkovich each scored 14 points for Avon (18-7) and Adam DeChant added 12.
"Obviously when it's the first time in 34 years, you pull out the 'Hoosiers' references and talk about the basket being 10-feet and all that," Baker said.
"But I think a big part of it was Poland's doing.
"They're a great team with a classy coach. I have a lot of respect for them."
Sophomore Chad Fender scored 13 points for the Bulldogs (23-1) and senior Eric Fender added 10 points and four steals.
Senior Neil Harris created his usual havoc, recording five points, nine rebounds (six in the second quarter), six assists and four steals.
Needless to say, the Bulldogs looked much better than their fans.
"It's pretty funny," Habuda said of the fans' Jane Fonda-esque outfits. "I have a bunch of my friends cheering for me and it helps you relax and remember it's a game."
Grisdale liked the outfits, but decided to skip the leotard and the leg warmers.
"I tried one once, but it split and my wife said I wasn't going like that," Grisdale quipped. "But I was singing 'Let's get physical.' "