Stratford head coach Ed Smith knew it would be a tall order to get through a GHSA Region 7-A tournament first-round game against Hancock Central on Tuesday night.
Hancock Central presented what Smith called a nightmare matchup to his team, and to make matters worse, the Eagles played without leading scorer Taylor Reese, who missed the game with the flu.
But Stratford was able to overcome the Bulldogs 36-30, mainly because of a 14-of-18 performance from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. The Eagles will play GMC on Friday at Wilkinson County.
“I thought we would have a difficult night because they are so big and physical, and we usually struggle against teams like that,” said Smith, whose team improves to 19-5. “I was proud of the way we were able to find a way to win, and when it’s the playoffs, that’s all you have to do.”
Stratford led 8-4 after the first quarter with Corey Woodcock scoring five of those points, but the Eagles struggled from the field the entire half, shooting only 4-of-29 from the field. Despite the cold shooting, Hancock Central only led 14-12 at the half as the Bulldogs were plagued by poor free-throw shooting, hitting only 2-of-8 in the first half.
While Stratford’s cold shooting continued, Hancock Central was able to pick it up in the third quarter, outscoring the Eagles 12-6 to take a 26-18 lead.
But Stratford finally figured out a way to score in the fourth quarter. With Hancock Central stretching its zone to get to the 3-point line, the Eagles found a hole with a high-low game featuring Bonnie Jarrard and Mary Wilson Avant. The two combined for nine points in an 11-0 Stratford run for a 29-26 Eagles lead. They sealed the win at the line, hitting 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute to get the win despite shooting 9-of-51 from the field.
“Sometimes you have to win games when you shot the ball like that,” Smith said. “We have good shooters and were getting good shots, but it was just one of those nights. I give full credit to this team for finding a way to win.”
TATTNALL SQUARE 84, LINCOLN COUNTY 34
The Trojans improved to 24-2 with the easy win, led by 19 points from Allie Gordon and 18 from Haley Gordon.
GMC 41, FPD 36
The Vikings’ season came to an end with a 6-16 record as GMC led 23-11 at the half and held on in the second half. Bailey Ruble led the Vikings with 13 points.