It has been a few years since Stratford has been a player on the GISA basketball scene.
John Paul Gaddy had some strong teams during his tenure, but the Eagles always seemed to run into a buzzsaw in the playoffs. His 2006 team with Michael Lemon and Russell Henley caught Mount Pisgah and its pair of seven-footers in the second round. The Eagles gave Mt. Vernon Presbyterian a fight in 2009 before losing by nine. Mt. Vernon won its other three games by an average of 27 points.
But the Eagles are still chasing that a GISA Class AAA championship, which has eluded the Eagles since 1995.
The last thing current head coach Jamie Dickey was focused on when arriving in 2011 was immediately chasing a title. He spent the first two years trying to put his stamp on the program. Now, two years later, his Eagles have pushed themselves into the championship discussion for the first time in a while.
The Eagles moved to 15-4 following a dominant win 60-41 win over Mount de Sales on Friday at McAuley Hall. They led the Cavaliers by 25 points after three quarters. It’s hard to remember a time Mount de Sales got dominated by a city rival.
Meanwhile, Stratford’s progress over the past three seasons has been impressive.
If you’ve watched Stratford, then you know a big reason for its ascension has been the play of freshman Quintez Cephus.
Cephus came on late last year as promising eighth-grader for the Eagles. He played well down the stretch and made Stratford a tough out by year’s end. As a standout eighth-grader, Cephus became the go-to player and that probably drew some jealously from some of Stratford’s seniors. That doesn’t appear to be the case this year. The Eagles have a good chemistry, and they play well together.
You can also tell playing alongside Cephus for a year has helped his teammates. Last year, Cephus would whip passes that bounced off the hands of unsuspecting players. Those balls were caught Friday night just as they have been all season. The rest of the Eagles have more confidence this year, which has made a huge difference.
The attention on Cephus has also helped free up his teammates. Mount de Sales assigned two defenders to Cephus – even when he didn’t have the ball – for a while on Friday.
The Eagles didn’t panic while Mount de Sales used its resources to slow down Cephus. They stepped up and comfortably made plays. Jonathan Hefner has a knock-down shot and is a great second option. Stewart Eberhardt is a strong defender and his offensive game is probably getting better with each game. Those guys know Cephus is their guy, but they welcome their roles and do a good job of complementing their young scorer. Cephus still scored 21 on Friday.
Dickey deserves a lot of credit too. He brings a youthful enthusiasm to the game and has a ton of energy. The players can feed off his exuberance. He’s also a basketball junkie. He probably knows more about what’s going on in high school basketball across the state – public or private – than any coach I’ve met.
Now, Mount de Sales didn’t play very well on Friday, and Stratford played very well. Dickey said this was the Eagles’ biggest win of the year, and it may just be the biggest win of his career. If the Eagles keep getting better, then Dickey will probably have a few more of these this season. Stratford plays Tattnall on Tuesday for first place in the region.