High school girls basketball / Stow 57, Mentor 30: Dominant defense leads Bulldogs to win
STOW — Prior to their game against Stow-Munroe Falls on Friday night, the Mentor girls basketball players let Bulldogs coach Bob Podges know they were thinking of him.
All five Mentor staters presented Podges with a red carnation before the game, as Podges is dealing with the recent death of his wife Josetta.
"That was a really classy gesture by them," Podges said. "The one thing this whole thing has taught me is the basketball community is very close. I can't tell you the number of messages of the support I've got over the last two weeks."
Podges' own players honored him by dominating the Cardinals.
Stow forced 20 turnovers in the first half while holding Mentor to only eight points. That suffocating defense led the Bulldogs to a 57-30 win at the James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
Since returning from their district-enforced COVID-19 pause Jan. 9, the Bulldogs (5-1) have won four games by an average margin of 28.5 points.
"We're getting into a rhythm right now," Podges said. "That first half was about as good as it gets, offensively and defensively. It was really hard for us to just practice and practice against each other all the time. We've really wanted to play someone else."
Although Mentor had a size advantage in the post, Stow's "pack line" defense shut down the Cardinals' inside game. Nearly every pass into the post seemed to result in the Bulldogs heading the other way with a turnover.
It also didn't hurt the Bulldogs that Lilee Carlson was feeling it.
The Bulldogs' captain made several driving layups and three 3-pointers on her way to a game-high 19 points, despite playing scant minutes in the second half.
Podges said this was the kind of offensive output he wanted for Carlson this winter.
"She was really on tonight," Podges said. "She's been a true Stow girls basketball player since she was a freshman."
Carlson got plenty of help, especially on the defensive end. Mentor didn't score until center Brooke Hickman made a putback layup with 1:30 left in the first quarter.
That was Mentor's lone two-point field goal until the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals also got a 3-pointer from Sofia Kraska late in the first quarter and another from Kiley Kolschetzky midway through the second quarter, which accounted for all of Mentor's first-half points.
Every member of Stow's starting lineup came up with multiple steals and deflections on defense.
After leading 20-5 through one quarter, the Bulldogs opened the second quarter on a 10-0 run.
Podges said the best thing about Stow's defense was the intensity doesn't drop off when he goes to the bench.
"We have a lot of depth," Podges said. "It's something that surprises some people. The thing is we also have players who can go for the full game without subbing, so it's hard to bring them out."
Eight Bulldogs scored Friday, as Podges was able to get all varsity players playing time for the second consecutive game.
Forward Kristen Chmielewski did most of her damage in the second half. She finished with 12 points and guard Krista McDowell and forward Emily Ervin each scored six points for Stow off the bench.
Kraska led the Cardinals with six points on two 3-pointers.
Stow was set to host Ashtabula Lakeside on Saturday, but the game has been canceled due COVID concerns at Lakeside.
The Bulldogs will host Suburban League National Conference rival Nordonia on Martin Luther King Day. Varsity tip time is set for 6 p.m.