STOW — Julie Solis was the head coach of Twinsburg girls basketball during its dynasty years, leading the Tigers to three straight Division I state title games.
During those years, Solis often had to contend with Bob Podges’ Stow-Munroe Falls squads, often for the top spot in the league. Throughout their history as league rivals, Podges and Solis often expressed admiration for each other.
Thus, a chance to face its old rival again was a big reason why Stow welcomed Glimour Academy to the James G. Tyree Gymnasium Monday.
"It’s always fun playing here," Solis said. "Bob and I have a really good relationship. He’s a man that … I have the most respect for."
Longtime Stow fans could be forgiven if they thought Gilmour was wearing a large blue "T" on their jerseys, because the contest had all the physical hallmarks of Bulldog-Tiger games from earlier this decade.
To finish the decade, Stow made just enough plays down the stretch to pull out a 43-40 win. Stow improved to 8-1 on the season, while Gilmour dropped to 4-6.
Prior to the Gilmour game, Stow rebounded from its first loss of the season with a dominant 53-26 home win over Chardon Saturday. After leading the Hilltoppers 14-11 after one quarter, the Bulldogs shut down Chardon during the rest of the game, outscoring them 39-15 over the final three quarters.
Podges admitted his team was fortunate to get the "W" against the Lancers.
"I thought it was a game we were lucky to win in the end," Podges said. "It’s basketball. You have to give Gilmour a lot of credit tonight. They played well."
Solis credited her team for its effort.
"We’ve been so up and down this year, as we continue to grow," Solis said. "I’m going to take this as a positive, that we were able to hang with a great team for the full game and put ourselves in a position to win."
Both coaches agreed the contest was played at Gilmour’s tempo, as the Lancers tried to slow the game to take advantage of its height advantage.
"We fell into that trap early," Podges said.
Podges made it clear he didn’t want to make excuses, but three Stow starters were dealing with injuries, which literally slowed the Bulldogs down. Podges also noted Stow didn’t play poorly on offense; the shots just would not fall.
"I thought we executed well on on offense, but we shot 18-of-52 (34.6 percent) from the field," Podges said. "You can execute on offense and have a game plan, but you’ve got to be able to finish at the basket."
Stow’s shooting woes were prevalent throughout the game, but were worst in the first half.
After Stow took a 6-2 lead early, Gilmour finished the first quarter on a 7-0 run, anchored by the play of senior guard Maddie Pulletti. Pulletti scored 10 of her 14 points in the first half.
Up 9-6 after one quarter, Gilmour kept coming and Stow kept clanking early in the second quarter.
Forward Lizzie Bender helped key a 9-4 run to start the second quarter for the Lacers, who led 18-10 midway through the second. Bender led all players with 17 points.
Despite the poor shooting, Stow’s efforts on defense and the boards never waned. A putback layup by forward Kira "Wrecker" Philpot helped the Bulldogs claw back. Philpot had only six points in the game, thanks to constant double teaming down low, but she finished with 15 rebounds on the night.
"She did a very good job for us down low," Podges said.
Stow cut the lead to 22-21 at the half. Neither team would lead by more than three points in the entire second half.
Despite playing with a sprained hand, Carlson gutted out a team-high 12 points for the Bulldogs. She gave Stow a brief 29-28 lead with 2:20 left in the third quarter, but the quarter would end tied at 31-31.
With both teams burning all their timeouts in the fourth quarter, Stow took possession after a scramble for the ball with 49.1 seconds left.
Off a timeout, Stow missed its initial shot, but Philpot got the rebound and drew the fifth foul of the night on Gilmour forward Cooper Flowers, who had played an excellent defensive game.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, Stow point guard Ellie McCoy did a circle to the top of the key before cutting the basket and hitting a layup off the glass. It was McCoy’s lone bucket of the game, but gave Stow a 41-40 lead with 28.1 seconds left.
Podges called timeout and Stow’s defense forced a bad shot from the Lancers, which Carlson rebounded and was fouled. She hit both ends of a one-and-one with 2.6 seconds left to make it 43-40 and Gilmour turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds play to ice the game.
Stow got 11 points from guard Kristin Chimielewski and 10 points from forward Bella Adams.
Against Chardon, Chmielewski hit for 14 points, while Carlson had 11 points. No Chardon player reached double figures against the Bulldogs’ defense.
Stow is set to open 2020 by facing its two top rivals. The Bulldogs will travel to Hudson Saturday at 2:30 p.m. before hosting Cuyahoga Falls Jan. 8 at 7 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_GHO