A year ago, the Stratford boys basketball team entered the quarterfinal round of the GHSA Class A Private School Tournament knowing its odds of advancement were slim.
It was the Eagles' first season in the GHSA. They had to face Greenforest Christian, a team with three starters in the neighborhood of the 7-foot range, for the first time. And, sure enough, Stratford didn't last long, falling 66-23 to a team that wound up playing for the championship in the Macon Coliseum.
Back in the quarterfinals this season, Stratford faces another strong Atlanta-area team that sat atop the power ratings for much of the season. But a game against North Cobb Christian likely won't invoke the same fear as last year's meeting with Greenforest did, since Stratford (20-5) and North Cobb Christian (23-4) have already faced each other.
They meet for the second time at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday at the Kennesaw State Convocation Center.
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"Coach (Jamie) Dickey and Coach Pete (Ranson) have done a really good job of helping us game plan," Stratford guard James Mitchell said. "We feel like if we play together and play our style, we can win any game."
For starters, the game Stratford played Dec. 11 at North Cobb Christian was much closer than that quarterfinal game against Greenforest. North Cobb Christian won 69-52, with Stratford closing to within single digits in the second half before North Cobb Christian pulled away.
The team Stratford put on the floor that night against North Cobb Christian wasn't a team that was in full basketball shape at that point. Stratford's football team advanced to the semifinals, delaying the start of basketball season. The North Cobb Christian contest was Stratford's third game of the season, and it was the third game in four nights following a win over George Walton and a loss at Northside.
In addition, one of Stratford's regular starters, Nate Brooks, didn't play in the first meeting. Only five players scored for Stratford in the first meeting against North Cobb Christian , with Quintez Cephus and O'Showen Williams accounting for all but seven of those points.
"They have a lot of very good key players on their team," Brooks said. "We just have to stop their guards and rebound, play our game, and we should be good."
Other than three straight losses around Christmas, North Cobb Christian rolled through the regular season. That run was tripped up, however, in the Region 6-A Tournament championship game, when defending Class A Private champion St. Francis posted an 88-64 victory.
North Cobb defeated Christian Heritage 71-50 in the first round of the Class A Private Tournament. Demiere Brown, who led North Cobb with 24 points in the first meeting with Stratford, scored 22 points.
Stratford opened the Class A Private Tournament with an 87-58 win over Walker.