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POLAND — When you have a successful program like the Poland Bulldogs girls basketball team, it’s hard to be up every night. The Bulldogs overcame a sluggish start to pull away from a pesky Struthers Wildcats squad Thursday night 51-30 in a key Northeast-8 victory.
The Bulldogs improve to 4-0 overall on the season, 3-0 in the NE-8. The Wildcats drop to 1-3, 1-2 in the league.
“We came out flat for some reason, I don’t know why,” Bulldogs coach Nick Blanch said. “Sometimes that’s what I worry about. We have success early and sometimes people feel that they are satisfied. We got this. And we can’t have that mindset. We have to be on the prowl every night, and that is what some of these kids are learning.”
With the Bulldogs only leading by three, 20-17 at halftime, they would ratchet up the intensity and explode with a 12-0 run to start the second half. The combination of seniors Connie Cougras, Abby Farber, and sophomore Mary Brant helped power the Bulldogs surge as Cougras would convert a basket and free throw at the 3:43 mark of the quarter to make it 32-17
“We just had to start playing our game. That’s what it came down to,” Blanch said. “Credit to them (Bulldog players). They came out and did what they had to do in the second half. Credit to our seniors for leading and we came out there and did more in the third quarter than we did in the whole first half both defensively and offensively.”
The Wildcats’ Emma Morris would finally stop the tide when she hit a basket at the 2:52 mark to make it 32-19. But when Farber connected on a layup with just 16-seconds remaining in the third frame, the Bulldogs held a commanding 40-20 lead.
The Bulldogs would start the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run to go up by a game-high 28-points with 4:30 left in the contest. But to the Wildcats credit, they kept battling to the very end and finished the game with a 9-3 run to reach the 21-point final margin.
“One of the things we are trying to focus on is where we play really well, but then there are times that we don’t, so we are looking for more consistency,” Wildcats coach Bill Neider said. “We are going through that process. And as we get more and more games in, you are going to see a lot better Struthers team.”
The Bulldogs led at the end of the first quarter 9-7 and went up 13-9 at the 6:08 mark of the second quarter when Courgas scored on a Wildcats turnover. However, the Wildcats Chloe Neider drained a 3-pointer with 2:03 remaining in the first half to cut the deficit down to a point at 15-14, But the Dogs would go on to hold a 20-16 lead going into the locker rooms at the half.
“I’m really proud of the girls. We are down two girls that are starters. They came out and played hard,” Neider said.
The Wildcats’ junior starter Faith Stellato has been out with a hand injury and looks to be back in another week or two. Junior Carlee Rhodes was out due to an illness.
The Bulldogs will take on another top program in the area this Saturday afternoon when they host the West Branch Warriors in the United Way Classic. The Wildcats will look to bounce back on Saturday when they play at Austintown.
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