It was one of those scrape-and-claw games, a game in which the winner nearly had what it would consider an ugly loss.
Stratford, which held Wilkinson County without a field goal for nearly 12 minutes between the tail end of the second and the early portion of the fourth quarters, saw a double-digit lead evaporate down the stretch. But, between a couple of off-the-mark bounces in the late going from Wilkinson County shots and a couple of strong scramble plays from ninth-grader Mary Elaine Mitchell, the Eagles survived, winning 38-37 to retain a share of first place in GHSA Region 7A-1A.
The win keeps Stratford (15-5, 7-2 Region 7A-1A) in control of hosting rights for next week’s Region 7-1A Tournament. The Eagles are tied with FPD for first in the sub-region, having split the regular-season series. Stratford owns a slight edge in a non-region Class 1A opponent tiebreaker, with the Eagles owning a 7-2 record (.778) against non-region Class 1A opponents to FPD’s 3-1 (.750) mark.
Carey Woodcock had 15 points and 10 rebounds to pace the Eagles, who close the regular season Friday at Twiggs County.
Wilkinson County (11-11, 6-3) entered the week in a three-way tie for first but was knocked out of the running for region tournament hosting rights with the loss. Ahnila Owens led the Warriors with 12 points.
Four who mattered
Woodcock: The junior scored 11 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the first half, keeping the Eagles in it during an otherwise dominant second quarter by Wilkinson County.
Owens: After Wilkinson County failed to score in the third quarter, the Warriors ninth-grader helped her team rally with a seven-point final quarter, including a 3-pointer with 1:48 to go that made it a one-point game.
Zhakire Simmons: The Wilkinson County senior forced the pace in the final quarter with four steals.
Mitchell: The guard stepped up her play down the stretch, hitting the floor to keep the ball in play and away from Wilkinson County in key situations.
Nadia Reese made two free throws with 25 seconds to go to give Stratford a one-point lead. Wilkinson County had two good looks at the basket afterward, but neither shot hit the mark.
Break out the antacid: Of Stratford’s 23 turnovers, 17 took place in the second and fourth quarters. Wilkinson County outscored Stratford 29-13 during those stretches.
But save some antacid for the other bench: Wilkinson County went 11 minutes and 56 seconds between field goals, failing to score at all in the third quarter. A 22-18 halftime lead for the Warriors morphed into 10-point deficit by the time Owens broke the drought from the field with 5:14 to go. The Warriors went 0-for-8 from the field and committed seven turnovers in the third.
Credit the comeback: Owens’ bucket to break the dry spell triggered a 13-2 Wilkinson County run. The Warriors took a 37-36 lead on two Ladasha Shinholster free throws with 1:11 to go, but those were the final points for Wilkinson County.
Also Tuesday night
Stratford’s boys, which has struggled in sub-region play this season following heavy graduation losses, gave Wilkinson County all it could handle before falling 60-57. Clarence Jackson scored 15 points for Wilkinson County (18-5, 7-2), while Tyler Jordan had 13 for Stratford (9-11, 3-6).
They said it
Stratford head coach Ed Smith on pulling out the victory: “We had two great hustle plays at the end to keep balls alive. Mary Elaine Mitchell just came up with two huge loose balls. If we don’t get them, we probably don’t win the game.”
Smith on getting through the game’s low points: “We were out of sync all night long. Thank God Carey came and had a good night with 15 and 10. She was pretty consistent much of the night. Other than that, it was poor coaching, poor preparation. I’ll take all the responsibility for that one.”
Smith on responding to Wilkinson County’s guard play: “They did a great job. They do attack well, they attack on both ends of the floor. They run through you sometimes, but they do it enough that I guess sometimes they’re going to get away with it. We’ve got to handle those situations a little bit better. We’re going to play teams that are physical. We’re going to play teams that get away with running through you and things like that. We just turned the ball over way too many times. A lot of that was to their credit, some of that was just not being prepared. Before we move forward, as a coach I have to do a better job of preparing this team.”
Woodcock on the win: “Well, it wasn’t our best game, but we just pulled through. We just needed that win. We had to get it.”
Woodcock on Mitchell’s contribution: “Mary Elaine is a great player. She’s a huge competitor. She’s a freshman who stepped up and made great hustle plays for us to get the victory.”
Wilkinson County head coach Jenean Cooper-Bolston on bouncing back after the long scoring drought: “They started going back to and thinking about the things they were supposed to be doing. We came out a little bit nervous in the third quarter. Once they had a little pep talk once the quarter was over, I think they pulled it together and came back out and fought hard.”
Stratford closes the regular season Friday with a 6 p.m. doubleheader at Twiggs County. Wilkinson County has a 6:30 p.m. home doubleheader Friday against Mount de Sales and concludes the regular season with a 6 p.m. doubleheader Saturday at Swainsboro. Friday’s Wilkinson County doubleheader will include the presentation of championship rings from the Warriors’ 2015-16 Class 1A public school boys basketball tournament victory.