BOARDMAN – In three of the past four years, the Poland and Chaney boys basketball teams have met in the district finals.
In 2018-19, Poland took home the crown. Then, just a year ago, Chaney won their second straight district title by topping the Bulldogs.
On Saturday, at Boardman High School, the Cowboys (18-8) made it three-straight by topping their familiar foe in an overtime thriller, 67-58, to advance to the Division II regional semifinals Thursday at Canton Memorial Civic Center. They’ll play St. Vincent-St. Mary at 6 pm
“We’ve been doing this all year,” Chaney coach Marlon McGaughy said after Chaney’s victory. “We had a tough schedule to prepare for games like this. Poland is a well-coached team and I told my players, they are never going to give up. So I think that’s what helped tonight. “
The Cowboys needed every bit of that advice on Saturday as they found themselves with leads of 10, 12, 14, 15 and 16 throughout the first half, but the Bulldogs (17-9) never went away.
Trailing 30-14 in the second quarter, Poland’s leading scorer Ross Dedo came alive and the Bulldogs went on a 7-2 run at the end of the first half to cut Chaney’s lead to 10 before heading into the locker rooms.
Jack Fulton and Dedo both tallied buckets to cut the lead to six coming out of the break before Chaney’s Davinci McDowell found the Cowboys their first basket of the third frame.
With around five minutes to go in the third quarter, the Cowboys suffered their biggest blow of the game as starting center Clive Wilson, a Boston College football commit, went down in the paint and needed to be helped off the floor.
“Chaney is a heck of a team and my prayers and my thoughts go out to Clive, I hope he’s okay,” Poland coach Eric Fender said. “You never want to see that in a game like this.”
Without the 6-foot-5 frame of Wilson in the middle of the lane, the Bulldogs attacked the paint throughout the third quarter. Dedo, who came into the game averaging 21.6 points a game and had tallied 37 in Poland’s semifinal win over Chagrin Falls, had only scored six points in the first half, but he started to attack in the quarter.
“We just told him to be more aggressive, that’s all it was,” Fender said about his star guard. “You can see he’s limping now, he took a hard fall in the first half and I think that kinda took the wind out of him. But, it was ‘At some point, we have to go play basketball and we gotta be aggressive.’ “
Dedo finished with a game-high 29 points and scored 23 after the first half by attacking the rim and drawing contact on the way to the basket.
Slowly, but surely, the Bulldogs continued to cut their way into Chaney’s lead and trailed by four with just under four minutes to go.
The Bulldogs never fully took the lead in regulation but with 25.1 seconds left in the game, Fulton made a layup to pull his team within two. Then, after McDowell missed two free throws, Fulton answered with another layup to tie the game at 53 and force overtime.
After the game, McGaughy said his team’s youth might have played a part in Poland getting back into the game.
“This team here is kinda young, so when you get a big lead you kinda get lax,” McGaughy said. “You don’t keep pushing, so I think now they understand that they have to keep pushing.”
That showed in overtime for the Cowboys.
Poland’s JP Genova hit a jump shot in the lane to give the Bulldogs a two point lead but that’s about all they would get.
40 seconds later, DJ Waller, who scored a team-high 20 points, drilled a 3-pointer to put the Cowboys back ahead and that was all they would need.
“Coach has always said, take shots and don’t be nervous,” Waller said. “Earlier in the season, I took a shot against Boardman and made it and we were down by one. So I had confidence in myself to make that shot and it felt good. “
From there, Isaiah Williams converted an and-1, made another layup and sealed the game at the foul line for the victory.
Williams and McDowell both finished with 13 points and Josiah Gonzalez, who tallied 8 first half points, finished with 11.
“It was a scary experience,” Gonzalez said about the back-and-forth contest. “But we came out and played strong as a team.”
The Bulldogs finish their season at 17-9 and Poland first-year head coach Eric Fender said that he hopes a performance like this from his seniors can be an expectation for the rest of his program.
“From my standpoint, being a first-year guy, I hope this is what our younger guys see,” Fender said. “This is the type of basketball we want to play. It was a never give-up type of situation for us and that’s a testament to the seniors. “
Now, for the third straight year, the Cowboys will look to the regional semis where they have a tough matchup ahead of them.
The Fighting Irish are 20-4 this season and handed Chaney a 74-53 loss earlier this season and also beat Medina Buckeye 93-53 to advance to the regional semis on Saturday. But, the Chaney coach believes his Cowboys are ready for the next step.
“We’re kind of built for this, we’ve had a tough schedule all year, so we should be prepared for the tournament,” McGaughy said.