CUYAHOGA FALLS – By the standards of both Cuyahoga Falls and Stow-Munroe Falls girls basketball, it has been a good winter.
Stow entered the regular-season finale Wednesday with its fourth straight Suburban League National Conference title locked up, while Falls was assured a winning season.
One game Falls would love to have back was the two teams’ first meeting on Jan. 8. The Black Tigers were seconds away from their first win in decades over Stow, only for a buzzer-beating layup from Krista McDowell to allow the Bulldogs to escape with a 34-33 win.
Fully healthy this time around, Stow made sure there was no such drama.
Stow held Falls to just four first-half points and cruised to the win from there, scoring s 47-25 win over the Black Tigers at Coach Tom Jones Court.
Stow finished the regular season with a record of 19-2 and a prefect 14-0 mark in the National Conference. Falls dropped to 13-9, 8-6 in the conference.
Stow coach Bob Podges lauded his team for doing something that not even Stow’s 2007 state runner-up had accomplished.
"This is the first time in my coaching career where we’ve got through an entire league season undefeated," Podges said. "They are a very focused team. They know how to execute a game plan and stick to it. It’s been a very happy year to work with this team.
"We heard all week on social media what they were going to do to us and they did it," Podges added, referring to the physicality of the game. "We were able to maintain our composure. You have to be able to play basketball eventually."
Falls coach Joe Novak could do little but tip his cap to Stow.
"They’re extremely good at what they do defensively," Novak said. "They do an excellent job of getting you out of your rhythm. If you try to force things or pass up shots that are there, they will make you pay.
"The effort was consistently there all night. That’s not been a problem all year. You just can’t dig yourself that big a hole and expect to win."
Stow’s offense got off to a slow start as well against Falls’ 2-3 zone, but things started to loosen up for the Bulldogs after 3-pointers from guards Lilee Carlson and Kristin Chimeliewski.
Carlson and Chmielewski finished with 15 points each to lead the Bulldogs.
Falls managed two just field goals in the first quarter, thanks to layups from senior guard Raygan Corrigall and freshman Mackenzie Kramer — and it only got worse for Falls from there.
Stow shut out the Black Tigers in the second quarter, as Falls missed its only free throw in the quarter. It was the fifth time this season the Bulldogs held a team scoreless for an entire quarter.
"We believe in our defense," Podges said. "We believe the pack line defense allows us to deal with anybody we play."
Stow’s offense still wasn’t in high gear, but the Bulldogs went to the half up 20-4.
Falls was able to get a bit more offense going in the second half, as junior Emma Brustowski keyed a 6-2 run to start the third quarter. Brustowski led Falls with eight points.
Falls also tried to ramp up the physicality under the basket versus the Bulldogs.
"It’s physical anytime you play Stow," Novak said. "We didn’t back down from it, but their rebounding really hurt us. They got a lot of second-chance points."
Novak noted Stow forward Kira Philpot owned the boards on the night. Philpot finished with seven points and 12 rebounds, despite being bumped most of the night.
Philpot declined to comment on the level of physicality in the game, other than to say it wasn’t hard for her to keep her composure.
Thanks to a lift from McDowell off the bench, Stow pushed the lead to 31-10 after three quarters.
Falls’ finally found a bit of offensive continuity in the fourth quarter, but the issue was never in doubt. Stow was able to convert when Falls moved into a full-court press late.
The only point of drama in the fourth quarter came from Podges as he was called for a technical foul for arguing with the referees after some non-calls under the basket had him fuming.
"It’s the first one I’ve had in while," Podges said with a smile.
Stow didn’t have its best free-throw shooting night of the year, going 9-of-17 from the line compared to 7-of-10 for Falls. But the Bulldogs hit enough free throws down the stretch to given them the 22-point margin of victory.
Both teams now turn their attention to postseason action in the Division I Ravenna district tournament. Fifth-seeded Falls was set to open the tournament by hosting 12th-seeded Boardman Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
"I think we’ve proven our ability to bounce back all year long," Novak said. "I think the quick turnaround is good for us, so we can get back to work."
If victorious, Falls would play the winner of the Canfield-Kent Roosevelt game Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, second-seeded Stow received a first-round bye. The Bulldogs will open the tournament by hosting the winner of the Walsh Jesuit-Massillon Perry game Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.
"I’m really happy with where we are right now," Podges said. "We’re focused on doing what we need to."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO