Ed Smith knew Saturday's game in the first round of the GHSA Class A Private School Tournament was not going to be easy for his Stratford girls basketball team.
After all, the Eagles were playing Southwest Atlanta Christian, a team that advanced to the championship game just a year ago.
Despite having only six players on the roster, the Warriors held on to knock Stratford out of the playoffs with a 42-39 win. Tiamya Butler led the way for Southwest Atlanta Christian with 25 points, while Ashlee Francis had 14 for Stratford.
Southwest Atlanta Christian led 14-8 at the half, thanks mainly to Butler and her 10 points, and the fact that Stratford hit only 3-of-16 shots in the first half. The Warriors pushed that lead to 27-19 at the end of three quarters, and 38-27 with only two minutes left in the game. But Stratford did not quit. Taking advantage of a fatigued Southwest Atlanta Christian team, the Eagles cut the Warriors' lead to 41-38 on an Evans McCook 3-pointer with 26 seconds left. After both teams made one free throw, Stratford managed to get McCook an open look from the 3-point line at the buzzer, but it rimmed out, giving Southwest Atlanta Christian the win.
FOUR WHO MATTERED
Francis: The Stratford senior scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and was the one constant force for Stratford.
Mary Wilson Avant: Avant was scoreless in the first half but scored six quick points in the third quarter to keep Stratford in the game. She ended with nine points and six rebounds.
Carey Woodcock: The sophomore struggled from the 3-point line but was the only player who was able to score inside for Stratford. She ended the game with nine points.
Butler: The junior did it all for Southwest Atlanta Christian, scoring 25 points and adding six assists and six rebounds.
Stratford was struggling in the fourth quarter, trailing 36-27 with five minutes left. But Smith prolonged the game by putting Southwest Atlanta Christian on the free-throw line. The Warriors converted only 8-of-20 free throws in the fourth quarter and allowed Stratford to get back in the game and have a chance to tie at the buzzer.
Three-point woes: Stratford had been an excellent 3-point shooting team all season but hit only 2-of-19 from the 3-point line against Southwest Atlanta Christian.
First-quarter issues: Stratford attempted nine shots in the first quarter, and eight of those were from behind the 3-point line as the Eagles were a bit unsure of what to do against 6-foot-5 post player Dominique Banks. But as the game went on, Woodcock had success going right at the heart of the Warriors' zone.
THEY SAID IT
Smith on the talent level of Southwest Atlanta Christian: "Obviously the point guard (Butler) was as good as advertised, and they have four girls that played on a team that went to the state championship game a year ago. But even with all that, we had a chance to send the game to overtime at the end."
Smith on the 3-point shooting: "We could not get them to fall on Saturday but we hit a big one late and I was so proud of Evans taking that last shot without any hesitation at all. I really thought it was going to go in, but we didn't get the bounce."
Smith on the season: "We won a region championship, and obviously we would have liked to do better in the state playoffs, but these girls gave me everything they had all year and in this game. It's hard not to be somewhat satisfied with the effort they gave and the season we had."