STOW — Over the past few years, Cuyahoga Falls girls basketball coach Joe Nowak has seen his team make big strides in the Suburban League National Conference — except when playing Falls’ arch rival.
For most of the Bob Podges’ tenure, Stow has owned the Black Tigers. Novak notes it hard enough to beat Stow when his team is at full strength — and the Black Tigers were missing their star player Wednesday.
With leading scorer Chelsea Huffman absent due to a school trip with her marketing class, Stow’s defense was in attack mode all night long. The result was a 67-22 win for the Bulldogs Wednesday at the James G. Tyree Gymnasium, as two teams played each other for the second time in as many weeks.
Prior to the Falls contest, Stow put up two more big wins, defeating Mentor 70-49 at home Saturday and beating Shaker Height 77-33 Monday on the road.
The Bulldogs pushed their winning streak to 13 games, as Stow improved to 17-2, 11-1 in the National Conference. The win sets up a huge home game Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at home vs. Wadsworth.
Falls dropped to 10-10, 4-8 in the National Conference with two regular season game remaining.
"We did a very nice job pressuring them and getting in the passing lanes," Podges said. "I thought we played our best defensive game this year. We’ve relied on our offense a lot more this season."
Nowak said the effort was there for Falls, but the execution was not.
"I thought our was solid throughout the game," Nowak said. "I know the difference was more this time, but i think we competed better for the entire game. We just beat ourselves. We didn’t do what we needed to on offense."
Stow also wasn’t at full strength Wednesday, as Podges chose to hold starting guard Lilee Carlson out after she suffered a slight ankle sprain Monday vs. Shaker Heights.
That gave freshman Kristen Chmielewski a chance at her first varsity start. She answered by getting seven points, seven rebounds and two blocks on night.
"Kristen is very talented and she’s showing it," Podges said. "We’re going to be losing some great player next year, but we should be fine."
Stow didn’t have its best shooting night, but Novak noted the Stow owned the paint and well defensively.
How good was Stow’s defense? The Bulldogs allowed seven Falls points in the first half, while forcing 12 turnovers, many of which were steals.
"They’re big, they’re athletic and they’ll take advantage of every mistake you make," Novak said, noting his team was dominated in offensive rebounds. "It had to be a 2-to-1 margin."
Stow only hit one three-point shot in the first half, but Chmielewski and forwards Lexi Stefanov and Kira "Wrecker" Philpot controlled the paint.
Philpot finished with a double-double, putting up 10 points and 12 rebounds, along with three steals. Stefanov scored 12 points with six rebounds and two blocks.
Senior guard Emily Andrassy led Stow with a game-high 16 points and five steals.
Stow led 31-7 at the half and played it reserves for long periods in the second half, but the Bulldog backups kept up the onslaught. Sophomore Bella Adams finished with nine points and five rebounds.
In Huffman’s absence, junior guard Raygan Corrigall led the Black Tigers.
"There’s a reason they’re whatever they are and two," Nowak said. "They’ve got so much depth."
Heading into Wadsworth game, Podges admitted his team had been focusing on the Grizzlies for the last two weeks.
"We’re looking at way they did in the first game and going to make sure they can’t do it again," Podges said.
Against Shaker Heights, Stow blew open the contest by outscoring the Red Raiders 23-2 in the second quarter. Stow led 43-13 at the half and never looked back.
Stefanov led the Bulldogs with 20 points, including four 3-pointers, while Andrassy added 13 points.
Stow will close out the regular season with two home games, as they host Brecksville-Broadview Heights Wednesday and St. Vincent-St. Mary Saturday at 7 p.m.
Last Sunday, the Bulldogs were given the No. 2 seed in the Division I Ravenna district tournament. Stow will open the postseason Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. by hosting the winner of the Boardman-Walsh Jesuit game.
Meanwhile, Falls closes out the its regular season by hosting Brecksville Monday and North Royalton Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The Black Tigers were given the No. 8 seed in the Ravenna district and will host ninth-seeded Hudson Saturday at 1 p.m. to open the playoffs.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_RPC