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Stow-Munroe Falls girls basketball hasn't been known for taking long road trips to play in tournaments in recent years.
However, with the OHSAA going to 22 regular-season games this year, Stow coach Bob Podges scheduled his team to play in the Route 40 Classic, which took place Jan. 19 to 21 at West Muskingum High School just east of Zanesville.
The Bulldogs split their two games at the Classic, but Podges said the experience did his team good.
Stow suffered its first non-division loss of the season Jan. 19, when it fell 53-50 to Newark. However, the Bulldogs rebounded with a 39-32 win over Columbus St. Francis DeSales.
"It was a really good competition," Podges said of the Classic. "I think we learned a lot about ourselves. We needed to play good teams in a tournament atmosphere with not much time to prepare. It was a good experience for us all the way around."
Newark presented a big challenge for the Bulldogs -- literally. The Wildcats boasted a frontcourt that included 6-foot-4 Kim Royster and 6-foot-2 Paige Cashin.
Against such a frontline, Podges' strategy was to hit the accelerator. However, an injury to point guard Abbie Lawson short-circuited that strategy.
"The difference in that game was our point guard went down with a sprained ankle in the first quarter," Podges said. "She was just going up for a rebound and she stepped on somebody's ankle."
Podges said Lawson should be fine going forward, but her time was limited due to the injury at the Classic.
With Lawson down, sophomore Christina Vaughn moved to point guard and responded with a career-high 13 points. However, with the Bulldogs forced into a half-court game, Newark exploited its height advantage.
"Our strategy at that point was to play a zone, but they destroyed that," Podges said. "They play a good high-low post game and they have guards that know how to get their post players the ball.
"We actually had the lead most of the first half, but they started to get away from us," Podges said. "The biggest lead they had was five and the biggest lead we had was five, so it was tight game."
Royster and Cashin accounted for 19 of Newark's 20 field goals in the game and 40 of the Wildcats' 53 points. Royster had 23 points, while Cashin had 17.
Working against that front court, Stow forward Maddie Baer finished with a team-high 14 points and 11 rebounds. Forward Danielle Tiller had 10 points.
While Newark did outrebound Stow, the edge was slight at 27-23.
Podges noted that St. Francis DeSales presented a different issue for Stow.
"DeSales was extremely patient," Podges said. "When we had the lead in the fourth quarter, they stayed in their zone.
We stood at half-court for two minutes, but they wouldn't come out of it."
That deliberate offense threw the Bulldogs off in the first half, as they trailed 22-14 at the half.
"At halftime, I told Sam [Shaver] that she needed to take over," Podges said "She went out and scored eight straight points."
Back on level terms due to Shaver's outburst, Stow outscored the Stallions 24-10 in the second half.
Baer had her second double-double of the Classic, finishing with 10 points and 18 rebounds. Shaver added nine points, while Vaughn had seven points, all of which came in the fourth quarter.
Stow had a full week off, but the Bulldogs were set to return to action Jan. 26 at arch rival Hudson. Results were not available at press time.
Podges said his team was focused on handling its business with the Explorers.
"I think that one of the real great attributes of this team is the ability to focus on the next game," Podges said Jan. 23.
Stow will play its final non-division game of the season Jan. 30 at Massillon Washington at 7:30 p.m., before hosting Mentor Feb. 2 at 7 p.m.