SHAKER HEIGHTS — It would have been a rather monumental upset if they pulled it off.
Let’s just say such a fact did absolutely nothing to make the Bulldogs feel any better.
The ninth-seeded Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball team’s upset bid fell short after suffering a nail-biting 51-48 loss to top-seeded Shaker Heights. The Twinsburg Division I sectional title contest took place at Shaker Heights High School.
With the win, the Red Raiders improved to 18-5 overall and earned a date with fourth-seeded Warren G. Harding in a district semifinal game next week.
The Bulldogs ended their season with an 11-13 record.
Longtime Stow head coach Dave Close was certainly disappointed to see his gritty team fall short. Something else bothered him too.
It had something to do with having fire in your belly.
"Our kids are just figuring out how to compete," Close said. "That’s a word a lot of people use. It’s overused when people don’t know what it really means. Our kids are just learning how to compete and battle every possession. Our kids were getting there."
The game turned quite suddenly and ruthlessly for the Bulldogs, thanks to one pivotal play late in the game.
With the game tied at 47, Stow’s chances of victory were dashed rather viciously when Shaker senior guard Shammah Scott stole the ball near half court and then finished with a left-handed layup in traffic with 10.4 seconds left.
The Bulldogs then turned it over on a ball that may have touched a body part of Red Raiders’ head coach Danny Young. Despite the possible contact, it was ruled Shaker ball and the coach’s son, sophomore guard Danny Young Jr., converted two clutch free throws to make it 51-47 with 3.8 left.
"The ball was still in Jack’s hands and it hit the coach," Close said. "It would have been our ball if it didn’t hit the coach. That’s disappointing.
"With the odds stacked against us, our window of opportunity is pretty small."
Stow junior guard Jack Costa was fouled with .4 remaining on a 3-point attempt. However, Costa missed his first free throw, made the second and then was called for a lane violation as he tried to miss the third foul shot on purpose.
"We hurt ourselves with mental mistakes," Close said. "Their press is pretty good. They have good athletes. We had some things that we were trying to do. The last thing you want to do is throw it out of a trap."
In the early stages of the game, it looked like the Bulldogs were completely overmatched. Despite Stow’s efforts to slow the pace down and avoid a track meet with the speedy Raiders, Shaker went on a 12-0 run that lasted the bulk of the first quarter.
The Bulldogs were not deterred, though.
Stow outscored the Raiders 17-5 in the second period to take a 21-17 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs took their final lead (47-44) of the game when junior forward Owen Bainbridge converted a layup off the dribble with a little more than a minute left.
However, Stow’s advantage was short-lived as Shaker junior forward Alex Benson immediately followed with a no-hesitation 3-pointer before the Raiders settled matters for good in the final seconds.
"Every guy in that locker room thinks we should have won the game," Close said. "I’m really proud of how hard these kids competed down the stretch. I hope they understand that as it carries over to the summer and into next year."
Scott led Shaker with 15 points and senior forward Dakota Cochran, who recently signed to play football at Central Michigan University, had 12 points and eight rebounds. Benson added 10 points.
Van Shyjka held his own against the Raiders’ taller post players throughout the evening. The Bulldogs’ emerging sophomore center finished with game-highs in points (19) and rebounds (12).
"They were pretty physical on him," Close said of Shyjka. "He’s a tough kid. He’s our bread and butter. We kept going to him. I love him to death. He works his butt off."
Bainbridge added 11 points for Stow, which had a 26-23 advantage in rebounding.
Prior to Friday’s game, the Bulldogs had one of their strongest performances of the season in their tournament opener.
Stow cruised past Kenston 62-40 Feb. 25 in Chagrin Falls.
"Kenston has six guys that can shoot 3s," Close said. "Our kids did a tremendous job defensively. It was all about managing tempo. We managed the tempo here except one turnover.
"The kids finally understood that. That was kind of a battle all year long. We shot almost 80 percent on 2-point field-goal attempts [against the Bombers] just by not taking bad shots. Working it until you get a good shot. That’s what Stow ball is supposed to be about."
Close said goodbye to his lone senior, forward Carter Kline. Other than that one valuable piece, the Bulldogs will remain intact next winter.
"We had 18 guys put on a varsity uniform," Close said. "Fourteen of them are sophomores and freshmen. The future is going to take care of itself. We’re not automatically going to be good again next year because we had a lot of young guys this year.
"It starts now. The kids have to get better; they have to work; they have to have a good offseason."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_Gannett.