With two ninth-graders in the starting lineup, Stratford head coach Ed Smith figured this would be a season for growth and development.
What he might not have counted on, however, was one of those ninth-graders hitting a buzzer-beater to win a region championship.
Freshman Nadia Reese took a cross-court pass, turned and nailed a 3-pointer as time expired to give Stratford a 33-31 victory over FPD in the championship game of the GHSA Region 7-1A Tournament on Saturday at Grady Smith Gymnasium.
Reese’s shot was a sign of just how far Stratford has come since the first of the year. The Eagles were held to 13 points in their first meeting with FPD, a 24-13 loss, but they have won 10-of-11 since.
Stratford (19-5) clinched a first-round bye in the Class 1A private school playoffs with the victory. FPD (18-6) entered the week seventh in the Class 1A private power ratings and has a shot at a first-round bye, as well.
“This is a young team,” Smith said. “This team had to grow as the season went on. They’re not the biggest, fastest, strongest, but they have a lot of heart and play with a lot of desire. We have only one senior this year and there’s a lot of excitement in the future for us, but in the moment we’re at right now, these young kids have grown up a lot over the course of a year. I’ve never been more proud of a team than I am with this one right now.”
The game was tied at 30 for most of the final minute-and-a-half. FPD was content to burn the clock, yo-yoing the ball in and out of Stratford’s defense in case a scoring opportunity developed.
As the final seconds wound down, FPD fed the ball inside to Kate Patterson, who was fouled with 3.2 seconds to go. She made the first but missed the second, and Stratford gained the rebound and called for time. The clock didn’t start on the rebound, but officials took two-tenths off.
Mary Elaine Mitchell, another ninth-grader, delivered a baseball-style inbounds pass to a double-teamed Reese at midcourt, who caught it and called for time with 2.2 seconds left.
Carey Woodcock, a junior, was tasked with passing the ball around Patterson, who had Woodcock closely guarded at the time line. Reese cut across the top of the key, slipping behind her defender and gaining an open look from about 23 feet, foul line extended.
“We worked on that the last couple of practices,” Reese said. “There was no giving up. After she missed that free throw, there was no giving up.”
Aysha Roberts led Stratford with 14 points, with Reese and Mitchell each adding eight. Patterson finished with 15 points to lead FPD.
Aquinas boys 47, Tattnall Square 40
Tattnall closed to within four in the final minute after trailing by double figures in the second half, but Aquinas held on to win the boys region championship.
Jimmy Marshall scored 17 to lead Tattnall, which scored 22 points in the final quarter. Sean Brown added 11.
Tre Gomillion scored 20 and Trent Bowdre added 15 for Aquinas (24-1), whose only loss this season came to a team from North Carolina during a holiday tournament.
Aquinas clinched a first-round bye, while Tattnall, which entered the week eighth in the Class 1A private school power ratings, is on the fence between a first-round bye and a first-round home game.
Wilkinson County girls 55, Tattnall Square 45
Zhakire Simmons scored 13 points and Ahnila Owens added 12 as the Warriors claimed the girls third-place game. Abby Rouse scored 15 for Tattnall, with Breonna Glover and Allie Gordon adding 10 each.
Tattnall entered the week 11th in the power ratings and likely will host a first-round tournament game. Wilkinson County entered the week 13th in the Class 1A public school power ratings and likely will host a first-round tournament game, as well.
FPD boys 63, Wilkinson County 62
Armaun Smith’s basket with four seconds to go lifted FPD to victory in the boys third-place game.
Henry Middlebrooks led the Vikings with 15 points, while Clarence Jackson paced Wilkinson County with 16 points.
FPD, which started the week 14th in the private school power ratings, likely will host a first-round tournament game. Wilkinson County, which started the week fifth in the public school ratings, has a shot at a first-round bye.