Not all players are willing to follow a coach's game plan when it strays from the fun stuff.
The Stow-Munroe Falls High School girls basketball team bought into what coach Bob Podges asked them to do Tuesday night and it paid off with a 49-45 win over Akron Kenmore in a Division I Sectional Tournament game at Akron Ellet.
"At this time of year, all you want to do is just get a win," Podges said. "There's no brownie points for how it looks."
The Bulldogs overcame a 17-15 halftime deficit to open a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter, then made their free throws down the stretch to hold off Kenmore's late barrage of 3-point shots.
Junior guard Alexandria Shaver took over the offense in the third quarter and finished with a game-high 21 points to lead the Bulldogs (16-5) into a second-round game against Medina on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. at Ellet. The Cardinals bowed out with an 11-10 record.
"I told her at halftime to take over, go to the basket and score," Podges said.
Senior Sarah Parsons, who finished with 11 points including 7-for-7 from the foul line, put the Bulldogs in command late in the third quarter. Parsons drove in for a score, was fouled and made the free throw for a 28-23 lead. After senior Jacquelyn Close scored on a layup, Parsons made two more free throws with 19.3 seconds left in the quarter to make it 32-23.
Then the Bulldogs became, well, bulldogs. They protected their lead in the face of Kenmore's constant pressure.
Podges knew that the Cardinals' quickness and determination could pose a problem for his team. So he asked his players to be patient on offense, tenacious on defense -- and be willing to stand their ground and take a charge.
Close, Kelli Magnani and Jessica Miano will be sporting bruises tomorrow to prove it. Each have the battle scars of drawing offensive fouls against Kenmore's full-speed-ahead players. Close and Magnani both went to the bench gasping for air after being hit in the chest and throat while defending. Miano was knocked over backwards, but proudly got up clapping when she saw the call go her way.
"I thought they were quicker than us, so we practiced all week on taking charges," Podges said.
They must have worked on free throws, too. The Bulldogs won the game at the foul line, hitting 23-of-30 (77 percent) of their free throws. Kenmore was 15-for-23 from the foul line.
Kenmore trailed, 46-37, after two free throws by Bulldogs senior Julie Rooney with 1:42 to play, but refused to quit.
Charmae Coleman, who led Kenmore with 12 points, drove for a basket with one minute left. Then Alexis Lee hit a 3-pointer with 20.9 seconds to play to get the Cardinals within four points (46-42).
Rooney sank two free throws with 17.5 seconds to go, but Alexis Bufford fired in another 3-pointer to get the Cardinals within three (48-45) just seven seconds later.
Rooney made one of two foul shots with five seconds left to finally secure the win.
Podges was glad Shaver, averaging better than 17 points a game, stepped up in the second half after the Bulldogs became tentative on offense.
"I really don't know where that came from, except that maybe early on we had a lot of shots bounce all over the rim and not in," he said. "A few of those misses, you start to lose some confidence. But the girls knew to get the ball to Alex. That's her role, to score, and they know that. She's probably the most popular player on the team."
Podges said the team should be well-prepared for Saturday's game against Medina.
"We split two games during the season and it should be a close game," he said. "It will probably come down to the little things."
Things like making free throws and being willing to take a charge.