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Stow -- With the graduation of two superstars, a number of fans probably considered the Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball team an afterthought prior to the 2012-13 season.
Now that the regular season has reached its conclusion, that "afterthought" is quickly becoming a team no one wants to face in the postseason.
The Bulldogs, despite being out of the race, caused some chaos in the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division standings after upsetting Brush 66-57 Feb. 15 at James G. Tyree Gymnasium.
With the win, Stow improved to 10-11 overall and 3-6 in the division. The Bulldogs' victory did wonders for one of their closest neighbors.
Hudson, which earned a commanding 71-48 victory over Twinsburg, took over the top spot of the River Division mountain. The Explorers improved to 7-2 in the division, while the Tigers dropped to 6-3. The Arcs fell to 5-3 in the division and 12-7 overall.
All three of those teams were scheduled to conclude division play this week. The Bulldogs were set to entertain the Tigers Feb. 23. Results were not available at press time.
"We stayed the course and didn't get rattled," longtime Stow head coach Dave Close said. "I'm really proud of these kids."
The Bulldogs are the No. 9 seed at the Copley Division I sectional-district tournament. They are scheduled to play seventh-seeded Akron Firestone in a sectional semifinal game Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m.
Stow, which won the Copley district title in 2011, thanks to standout guards David Walker and Kyle Scelza, won't be on the short list of favorites. Of course, 10 regular-season wins seemed out of the question too back in December.
With Walker and Scelza graduating last year, very little was expected of the Bulldogs this season.
These days, it's safe to say future opponents better take this advice: Don't take Stow lightly.
"I don't know what's ahead, but those months' worth of effort has really paid off," Close said.
It certainly did against Brush.
The Bulldogs, who have struggled to score throughout the season, looked like an offensive juggernaut in the first eight minutes.
So did the Arcs .
In a highly entertaining first quarter, Stow took a 20-18 lead after the two teams combined for seven three-pointers.
But Brush hit a lull in the second period, the home team kept its foot on the gas pedal.
The Arcs also had some problems avoiding contact as four key players picked up two fouls in the second quarter. As a result, Stow, which made 20-of-26 foul shots for the game, took a 37-24 halftime lead. A 14-0 run that began late in the first period gave the Bulldogs a huge boost.
That boost took a temporary leave after halftime.
Brush, thanks to its pressing, trapping defense, quickly trimmed the Bulldogs' advantage to 39-34. Leading the way for the Arcs was 6-foot-4 senior guard Brandon Dawson, who scored six of his team-high 23 points in the first 5 minutes, 14 seconds of the third quarter. Dawson's last bucket, a layup after getting good post position on a shorter defender, cut Stow's lead to 43-38.
At that point, it was easy to think the Bulldogs' hopes were crumbling rapidly. And then, just like that, Stow's battery fully recharged itself.
Freshman guard Nathan Bower-Malone answered Brush's run with a three-pointer to start an 11-0 run that concluded early in the fourth period.
The Bulldogs never looked back the rest of the way.
Matt Beech led Stow with a game-high 27 points and teammate Jacob Williams added 26 points. The duo combined to make 17-of-21 foul shots.
Delvon Robinson and Christian Oakley scored 12 and 11 points, respectively, for the Arcs.
While Beech and Williams provided the scoring punch, several other players made an impact in a number of ways.
"I love these guys," Close said. "They work, work and work. They compete; they've been in almost every game. It's not always pretty, but they practice hard and they treat every game like it's their last."