It can be human nature for a favored team to underestimate an underdog — especially when the favored team beat the underdog by nearly 40 points just a few weeks ago.
Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball — the champion of the Suburban League National Conference Conference — had put Copley — a co-champion of the league’s American Conference — to the sword Feb. 17 at Copley with 82-43 win.
Thus, when the Bulldogs played Copley Wednesday in a Division I district semifinal at Barberton’s Jack Greynolds Gymnasium, a Copley upset was unthinkable, right?
"I told the guys the Copley we beat a few weeks ago is not the Copley we’re going to play tonight," said Stow coach Dave Close.
It certainly wasn’t — but fans from both schools could be forgiven if they couldn’t believe what happened Wednesday.
Copley outscored Stow 17-8 in the final quarter to pull out a 45-38 upset over the Bulldogs and end Stow’s season.
Stow finished the winter at 20-4. Copley improved to 19-6 and advanced to the Division I Barberton final Saturday.
The Bulldogs advanced to district play for the third consecutive year after earning a hard-fought 43-37 victory over Wadsworth last Saturday in a sectional final game at Stow’s James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
After the district semifinals, Close said he could do little but hug his team.
"I told them I loved them," Close said. "The season is over, so I didn’t want to dissect the game for them. I wanted them to know I was heartbroken as they were.
"We didn’t really get into any rhythm tonight offensively," he added. "You have stretches where you hit two or three shots in a row, so you can feel good about yourself on offense and that didn’t happen. We had a lot of nice looks that just didn’t go down tonight."
Copley coach Mark Dente said just about everything that happened in the first game reversed itself.
"In the first game, we didn’t want to show them anything and they hit a lot of shots," Dente said. "We sat back in a 3-2 zone that game. My guys did everything I asked of them tonight. That is a great team [Stow] has. We were able hold a great Stow team to that many points, so we should be able to win."
Stow looked to have its outside game working early, as senior guard Coryon Rice hit two 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game. However, Rice had a hand in his face most of the night, as he scored eight of his 12 points in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, Stow spent much of the night defensively in a 2-3 zone, which Dente said his team was ready for.
"We worked on the 2-3 zone all week," Dente said. "We got a lot of layups because we were able to find some creases."
Stow was up 15-11 after one quarter, but it was clear Copley was not going to let the Bulldogs run away with the game.
Time of possession may not be a statistic in basketball, but the Indians had numerous possession of 30 seconds or more as they attempted to slow down the game.
"Copley did a great job being patient on offense against our zone," Close said. "Copley has beaten a lot of good teams this year."
The Indians slow-down tactics and Stow’s poor shooting sent the contest to halftime with Stow nursing a 21-19 lead.
Copley then came out of the locker room with a 4-0 spurt to take a 23-21 lead before Stow senior Ethan Fretag keyed a 6-0 Stow run to retake the lead.
Once again, Copley would not let the Bulldogs get away, as the Indians closed the gap to 29-28 and tried to play for the last shot of the third quarter. Instead, Stow junior Bryce Harvey rebounded the ball, went from one basket to the other and was fouled. Harvey split the free throws to make it 30-28 after three.
The catalyst for Copley’s fourth-quarter run was junior forward Sam Emich. After being held scoreless in the first three quarters, Emich scored seven points in the final stanza.
"They weren’t guarding Sam very close and we told him he had to score for us," Dente said.
Emich sank a 3-pointer to give Copley a 33-32 lead and the Indians would not trail again.
Layups by Copley guard Brian Rogers and Emich stretched the lead to 37-32 before Rice answered with a bucket.
A reverse layup by Aamir Soloman made it 41-36 with a minute left. Roberts and Isaiah Rogers iced the win for Copley, as each guard hit both ends of a 1-and-1 situation in the game’s final minutes.
Rogers finished with a game-high 15 points, along with five rebounds and three steals. Roberts added 13 points, three rebounds and two assists.
Stow finished with a 24-20 edge in rebounds, but Copley had the edge in assists (8-4) and steals (5-1).
In his final game as a Bulldog, senior forward Mason McMurray had 12 points and seven rebounds. Junior forward Evan Bainbridge had eight rebounds, but was held to just five points on the night.
"We just didn’t play well on offense tonight," Close said. "That was a carryover from the Wadsworth game. Playing only one game in two weeks seems to take us out of our rhythm and we never really got back into it."
Against Wadsworth, the Bulldogs trailed much of the way until they turned up the pressure and forced some critical turnovers.
Senior point guard Coryon Rice finished with a game-high 15 points in the win over Wadsworth.
The Bulldogs had a 24-21 edge on the glass. McMurray and Bainbridge each had seven rebounds. McMurray, who was in foul trouble in the first half, also had 14 points.
Close said goodbye to talented senior class that includes Ohio University recruit McMurray, Rice, Fretag, forward Bradley Stutz and forward John Boucher.
"It’s disappointing for them and for me, because they’ve been with the program so long," Close said. "It’s certainly not the way we wanted things to end for them."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_RPC