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BROADVIEW HEIGHTS -- They still had a game left and some unfinished business to address.
But the Bulldogs are Suburban League National Conference champions for the first time.
The Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball team claimed at least a piece of the title Feb. 17 on the road.
The Bulldogs earned a 51-39 victory over defending National Conference champion Brecksville-Broadview Heights. With the win, Stow, which also earned a hard-fought 57-56 victory over Massillon Feb. 21 at James G. Tyree Gymnasium, improved to 16-4 overall and 12-1 in the National Conference.
If the Bulldogs defeat North Royalton in their conference finale, they will claim the outright championship. Stow was scheduled to visit North Royalton Feb. 24. Results were
Wadsworth had a chance to get a share of the title.
The Grizzlies improved to 11-2 in the conference with a hard-fought 57-48 win over Hudson Feb. 17 at Hudson High School's Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium.
If Wadsworth, which handed Stow its only conference loss of the season last month, defeats Nordonia in its conference finale and the Bulldogs fall to the Bears, the Grizzlies will share the title with Stow. The Wadsworth-Nordonia game also was scheduled for Feb. 24 in Macedonia.
The Bees, who swept the Bulldogs last season to claim the National Conference championship all to themselves, could only hope for second place.
Brecksville dropped to third in the conference standings. The Bees fell to 14-7 overall and 10-3 in the conference.
While longtime Bulldogs head coach Dave Close knows his team has one more game, he'll gladly take a win over a very strong opponent on the road.
"It's huge," he said. "You play for championships and to come into their gym against the reigning champion is a big win. They are an incredibly disciplined and well-coached team."
For awhile, Brecksville had the early advantage, thanks to the play of Matt Dimitrijevs.
The standout senior guard did most of his work off the dribble that usually ended with him unleashing and making a plethora of perimeter shots.
After Dimitrijevs drained a jumper with approximately two minutes left in the half, the Bees had a 24-18 lead. That basket gave Dimitrijevs 11 points.
The Bulldogs had four turnovers in the first quarter and settled for jump shots that found iron.
"They [the Bees] did a good job of taking Mason [McMurray] and Logan [Lindsay] out of the game," Close said. "We forced some shots. We had a hard time scoring."
Stow appeared to have found something late in the half.
Junior guard Coryon Rice scored an acrobatic layup in traffic on a fast break and then found McMurray, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, on the left side of the court.
McMurray found nothing but net on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer to cut Brecksville's advantage to 24-23.
It was all Bulldogs after that.
Stow outscored the Bees 16-5 in the third period to take a 40-28 lead. Senior guard Jordan Jolly closed the spurt with 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.
Brecksville, which moved the ball effectively and made shots to take a 17-13 lead after one quarter, suddenly lost its rhythm.
The Bees committed six turnovers apiece in the second and third quarters and scored a total of 11 points during that 16-minute span.
But Brecksville refused to go away quietly.
When Dimitrijevs made his only basket of the second half -- a 3-pointer from the left side with about three minutes left -- the Bulldogs lead was just six (45-39).
The Bees did not score again.
Stow scored the final six points of the game, thanks to stellar ball movement and good work on defense and on the glass.
Brecksville had several one-and-done possessions as the Bees struggled to find their touch for much of the evening.
The Bulldogs put the icing on the cake when sophomore 6-8 center Evan Bainbridge got free for a dunk off an assist from Lindsay, a senior guard, and Lindsay followed with a layup, thanks to an accurate pass from McMurray.
On both of those possessions, Stow was able to find the open man despite being trapped by Brecksville's defense outside the 3-point arc.
"That was the best finish to a game we've had all season," Close said. "Our defense stepped up and we got some rebounds down the stretch. We did a much better job on Dimitrijevs. It was a very gratifying way to finish the game the way we did."
The Bulldogs' win proved to be the ideal example of stellar teamwork.
A total of eight players scored at least two points and not a single Stow player reached double digits in scoring.
McMurray, Bainbridge and Rice each had 9 points to lead the Bulldogs and Jolly and Lindsay each had 6.
Senior point guard Jared Wright and senior guard/forward Nick Kollar each had five points and senior forward Justin Harvey scored his lone points on a layup in the first half.
"That's kind of us," Close said. "We came into the season thinking we were going to have a different leading scorer every night. I thought we shared the ball well."
Stow made 7-of-11 shots from the free throw line and six 3-pointers.
The Bees, on the other hand, had far less scoring options.
Dimitrijevs led Brecksville with a game-high 14 points and senior guard Griffin Stevens and junior guard Mike Rose finished with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Brecksville's other three points came from 6-7 senior post player Jared Bazil.
The Bees, who were missing 6-4 starting point guard Kenny Ganley, made just one of their three 3-pointers after halftime. Ganley was on crutches after suffering an injury during practice earlier in the week.
Brecksville made just 4-of-6 from the charity stripe.
The Bulldogs nearly rallied from a huge deficit to defeat the Bees in the junior varsity game. Brecksville made the go-ahead basket with 3.7 seconds left to earn a 49-47 win. Stow trailed 32-16 at halftime.
Against Massillon, Stow made several critical free throws down the stretch to seal the deal. Rice led the way with a game-high 18 points and Lindsay and McMuray contributed 12 and 11 points, respectively. The Bulldogs also posted a 66-51 victory in the JV contest.
Stow honored Wright Lindsay, Kollar Jolly and Harvey before the game on senior night.
The Bulldogs were set to conclude their regular season at Green Feb. 25. Results were not available at press time.
Stow received the fourth seed at the Copley Division I sectional-district tournament. The Bulldogs earned an opening-round bye and are scheduled to host the Bainbridge Township Highland-Walsh Jesuit winner in a sectional title contest March 4. Game time is set for 7 p.m.