On a night of memorial, Stow grinds past Nordonia 39-33 in girls basketball

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Stow girls basketball coach Bob Podges gets a hug from Lilee Carlson after a ceremony honoring his late wife Josetta before the game against Nordonia on Monday in Stow. [Phil Masturzo/Beacon Journal]

STOW — Nordonia and Stow-Munroe Falls have had some enthralling battles for Suburban League National Conference girls basketball titles.

Before their most recent clash of maroon and gold with hunter green and black — won 39-33 by Stow Monday night — another color took center stage at the James G. Tyree Gymnasium, however.

Players and coaches from both teams wore T-shirts with purple basketballs — purple being the favorite color of Josetta Podges, the wife of Stow coach Bob Podges who passed away Dec. 31.

Monday's game was dedicated to Josetta Podges memory, and a moment of silence was held before the opening tip.

Bob Podges had to blink back tears when he addressed the crowd before the game.

Nordonia's Hallie Majoros, top, and Stow's Alexis Shultz scramble after a loose ball in the third quarter of the Bulldogs; 39-33 win Monday night in Stow. [Phil Masturzo/Beacon Journal]

"You have all touched my heart deeply," Podges said. "This outpouring of concern is something that I will always remember."

Podges' children, Greg and Amanda, were in attendance along with their families.

"I thought I was going to be able to get through it OK, but then I looked over at my kids and they were crying," Podges said after the game. "That's when I lost it. We talk all the time about Stow basketball being a family. Everything that has happened the last two weeks has brought a lot of comfort to me."

Nordonia coach Julie Buckler said she and her team were honored to be part of the evening.

"They wanted to make sure everyone was a part of this," Buckler said. "It's great to see respect between the two programs."

Nordonia's Madison Cluse puts up a shot as Stow's Bella Adams defends during Monday night's game in Stow. Cluse led all scorers with 14 points and added 11 rebounds but Stow won the game 39-33[Phil Masturzo/Beacon Journal]

Once the game started, Stow (6-1, 3-0) never trailed, but a poor offensive outing limited the Bulldogs, who had to rely on their defense to pull out the victory over the Knights (10-4, 4-1).

The Bulldogs played well on offense, but there seemed to be a lid on the basket for most of the game.

"We had a lot of good looks, but the ball just wouldn't go in," Podges said. "When you have games like this, to rely on your grit and your defense is big. They made enough shots to win and that's all we ever ask.

"I thought we did a great job defensively, on their two big players."

For the fourth consecutive game, Stow caused more turnovers in the first half (11) then it allowed points (eight).

"That was the biggest thing for us — the turnover situation," Buckler said. "I think tonight was eye-opening for some of our younger players in terms of ball pressure.

Nordonia's Ella Gorta, left, and Stow's Anna Hurst go after a rebound in the third quarter of Stow's 39-33 win Monday night in Stow. [Phil Masturzo/Beacon Journal]

"They played so soft on our different players and so tight on our two leading scorers. You have to try to create for our other players."

Stow shut out Nordonia outside shooter Hallie Majoros in large part because of the efforts of Lilee Carlson, although Majoros also limited Carlson to seven points on her end.

The Bulldogs' shooting woes kept the lead at only 9-3 after one quarter and 17-8 at the half.

"When you got two teams of this caliber, it's rare to see a score like that at the half," Buckler said.

Stow pushed the lead to 23-13 midway through the third quarter, but then its offense stagnated.

Meanwhile, the Knights got a boost off the bench from sophomore Jensen Stehlik, who scored all six of her points in the third quarter. She keyed an 8-1 run that cut the deficit to 24-21 by the end of the quarter.

Needing a spark on offense, Stow got it from two unlikely sources.

Point guard Ellie McCoy made two 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to help push the lead back to 34-26. McCoy finished with a team-high 11 points.

"Ellie knows her role is not to score points usually," Podges said. "Tonight, her teammates needed her to score and she did it."

Three layups by forward Bella Adams in the fourth quarter helped Stow stay in control, despite the efforts of Nordonia standout Madi Cluse, who finished with a game-high 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Forward Kennedy Syllaba added 11 points for the Knights, who received scoring from just four players.

After Carlson split two free throws with 55.4 seconds left, Stow killed off most of the remaining time with some nice ball moment.

Stow ended up causing 22 Nordonia turnovers.

The Bulldogs also struggled at the free-throw line, going 5-of-12 compared to 9-of-12 for the Knights.