With the stretch run upon the Stow-Munroe Falls girls basketball team, coach Bob Podges is hoping his team stays focused.
The Bulldogs had things working properly last week.
Stow opened the week with a 43-36 win over Mentor Jan. 30, followed by a 51-36 win over backyard rival Cuyahoga Falls Feb. 1 at the James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
Stow's record stood at 15-2, 10-1 in the Suburban League National Conference as of press time.
Podges indicated there is a lot of respect between the Stow and Mentor programs, but a strong start allowed the Bulldogs to take control early.
"No matter what the records are, we always seem to play each other tough," Podges said. "We had a 15-point lead at halftime and sort of held onto it from there. We played really well on both sides of the ball, particularly in the first half."
With Stow up 30-15 at halftime, Mentor attempted to switch tactics, but the Bulldogs didn't bite.
"They slowed down and started to run something of a weave in the second half," Podges said. "We just sat back and said 'Go ahead and weave.' We stayed in our pack line and didn't let them in."
Podges noted the game wasn't as close as the final score indicated.
"We had a 13-point lead with a minute a half left," Podges said. "I put our reserves in and they kept their starters in. They got a few easy baskets."
Junior guard Theresa Parr led the Bulldogs, finishing with 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the win.
"She's coming back really well," Podges said. "She's been struggling a bit, but this was a big game for her confidence."
Forward Lizzy Stefanov added nine points for the Bulldogs.
When the Bulldogs welcomed Cuyahoga Falls to town Feb. 1, they had a bit of a surprise waiting for their rival: Full-court pressure on defense.
"We pressed them most of the first half," Podges said. " We went with a man press, just to try it, in case we need to use it in the future. It worked well."
Stow took a lead of 13-7 after one quarter and 32-19 at halftime.
The Bulldogs then backed out of the press in the second half and returned to their normal pack-line style. The Black Tigers managed only three points in the third quarter.
"We were trying to get out to an early lead and we did," Podges said. "We tried to get as many players as we could into the game, so they had a chance to play."
Falls was able to cut the gap a bit against Stow's reserves in the fourth quarter, but the issue was never in doubt.
Despite the 15-point win, Podges said the Black Tigers have taken big strides forward this year.
"Falls is not the the traditional Falls of old," Podges said. "They've won 10 games already this season. [Coach] Joe Novak has spent a lot of time trying to get that program in the right direction and it looks like they finally are."
With Stow subbing liberally in the game, the Bulldogs were led by senior forward Lindsey Molnar with 15 points. Molnar hit four 3-pointers and a three-point play.
"She's really the unsung hero for us," Podges said of Molnar. "She plays four positions for us. When we go with Lindsey, Laura [Turschak] and Lizzy on the floor, we're a pretty big team."
Parr added 10 points for the Bulldogs, while Stefanov had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Emily Andrassy finished with six steals for the Bulldogs.
"That's one of our strengths in that we've been so balanced in our scoring," Podges said. "If you try to take one of our players out, we've got five other kids that can score."
Bailee Brooks led Falls with 10 points in the loss.
Stow was set to host another backyard rival when Kent Roosevelt visited Feb. 4, but results were were not available at press time.
Stow has a busy week, beginning with the draw for the Division I district tournament at St. Vincent-St. Mary Feb. 5.
On the court, Stow will travel to Hudson Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m., play host to Brecksville-Broadview Heights Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. and visit St. Vincent-St. Mary Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m.
"The season is coming to a fast end," Podges said. "It's been a fun season. We're looking forward to the playoffs."