STOW — After another brilliant regular season, Stow-Murnoe Falls girls basketball looked to open its postseason with a bang.
Instead, the Bulldogs looked flat for much of their playoff opener Thursday vs. Massillon Perry at James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
Stow didn’t earn any style points, but coach Bob Podges was OK with that.
"It’s tournament time," Podges said. "If you’re able to advance, that’s not unacceptable."
Despite the struggles, Stow pulled out a 39-32 win over Perry in Division I sectional final at home. Stow improved to 21-2 on the season, while Perry finished at 9-15.
Stow advanced to the Division I district semifinal at Ravenna Tuesday at 6 p.m. The game will be a rematch of last year’s district final vs. Aurora, who defeated Warren Howland 53-34 Thursday.
Podges saw his team play perhaps its worst half of basketball this year in the first half, as Stow had nearly as many turnovers (11) as points (14).
"We didn’t play well. We know we can play a lot better," Podges said. "I think we played better in the second half. In the first half, we didn’t shoot well, we didn’t pass the ball well and we didn’t catch the ball well. There were several times that we made the right pass, but didn’t catch it.
"Add all that up and we were still able to advance," Podger said.
Podges noted one reason for the Bulldogs’ flat start was the fact it had to wait eight days between games. The Bulldogs’ final game of the season with St. Vincent-St. Mary was cancelled, and Stow won by forfeit.
Stow sophomore Kristin Chmielewski agreed with her coach’s assessment.
"I think it’s just because we had a lot of time between games," Chmielewski said. "The game also was a lot slower than we expected, and that didn’t help."
Chmielewski was Stow’s best player on both ends of the floor, as she finished with a game-high 14 points and three blocks. Chmielewski nailed a pair of three-pointers in the first quarter, helping Stow take an 8-7 lead after one quarter.
However, Perry’s methodical, motion-based offense had the Bulldogs’ defense perplexed for much of the first half.
"You’ve got to give Perry credit," Podges said. "They had a perfect game plan to hold the ball against us and they executed very well."
"It’s tough to stay patient against them," Chmielewski said. "You’ve got to stay awake the whole time, or your man is gonna get behind you and have a backdoor cut."
Stow managed one field goal in the second quarter, clinging to a 14-12 lead at the half.
A three-pointer by Perry’s Mia Guscoff gave the Panthers a 15-14 lead early in the third quarter. Guscoff and Meredith Randulic each had 13 points for the Panthers.
However, Stow junior Lille Carlson was able to key a 7-0 run for Stow late in the third quarter to finally give Stow some breathing space. After a layup, she hit one of free throws and fed Bella Adams to give Stow a 25-19 lead after three quarters.
Carlson finished with 11 points all of which came in the second half.
Stow was able push the lead to 29-19 early in the fourth quarter, thanks to a baseline jumper and a layup from Chmielewski.
Perry tried to push back into the game and cut the lead 33-28 with 3:12 left.
However, while Stow didn’t have its best night at the free-throw line, point guard Ellie McCoy hit both ends of a one-and-one with just over a minute left to ice the game for Stow.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO