STRATFORD—The old barn known as the Needham Memorial Gymnasium was sold out on Wednesday night as the Stratford boys basketball team hosted cross-town rival Bunnell.
Those left on the outside, unable to even look in, missed one helluva game.
The latest chapter in the boys basketball rivalry between the host Red Devils and the visiting Bulldogs went to the home team, which pulled out an exciting 58-55 win in front of an estimated 650 fans.
“It was a great team effort,” Stratford coach Tim Swaller said. “I thought everybody that got on the floor tonight contributed. Everybody carried out their role. It was a heckuva game between two great teams and we were fortunate enough to make a few plays and a few shots down the stretch.”
Jack Ryan led a balanced scoring attack with 14 points while freshman Jayquan Kirkland added 13 for the Red Devils, who improved to 12-5 on the season, 9-1 in SWC play.
Zack Fedak added 9 points, Preston Williams had 8 while the August brothers—Mike and Joe—had seven points each.
Elijah Alexandre led Bunnell (11-5 7-2 SWC) with a game-high 15 points while Khalid Moreland added 11.
“Stratford played hard,” said Bunnell coach Dannie Powell, who was coaching at his SHS alma mater for the first time. “They were the team better team and they deserved to win.”
In the first meeting between the two rivals, a non-league game back on Jan. 4, Bunnell led by as much as 18 en route to a 70-64 win.
Wednesday’s rematch was nip-and-tuck all night as the game featured seven lead changes and seven ties.
Stratford’s largest lead was seven (50-43 in the fourth) while Bunnell had two four-point advantages in the first half.
“I think we wanted this really bad, especially after that first loss,” Ryan said. “It hit us hard and we wanted it more than them today.”
Leading by one, 52-51, in the final two minutes, Stratford went 4-for-4 from the foul line as Joe August and Fedak both made two foul shots.
A lay-up by Mike August, off a back-door feed from Ryan, with 15 seconds left pushed the Stratford lead to 58-55.
Following a pair of time-outs by Bunnell with 5.2 seconds left, the Bulldogs missed a game-tying 3-pointer from the right baseline, giving the host Red Devils the win.
“These seniors, we had said, potentially, this could be the last time we play them,” Swaller said. “But you’re on your home floor, so you want that game.”
The Red Devils made sure they weren’t too amped up for the game and remained focus on the task at hand.
“We try to stay mellow,” Mike August said. “I know this game was huge. I had butterflies before it. They’re a great team. Max (Maximus Edwards) is a great player, Dannie Powell is a great coach and they have skilled players all around. You can’t take them lightly.”
The Red Devils took turn making big shots—including huge 3-pointers by Fedak, Williams and Kirkland when Stratford needed them the most.
On the other end of the court, meanwhile, Edwards seemed to be off the whole game, scoring just six points.
Powell even sat his star player for much of the third quarter, trying to snap his team out of the funk it was in.
“We didn’t have the greatest practice yesterday and it’s like I told them, ‘You give what you get,’” Powell said. “You can’t disrespect the game of basketball and think you can turn it on and turn it off. We didn’t go hard in practice yesterday and it carried over to today.”
Stratford, meanwhile, kept the pace of play right where the Red Devils wanted it for much of the game.
“We knew they’re a good team when they’re fast,” Swaller said. “Once they get out in transition, they’re tough to stop. We tried to minimize that the best we could and for the most part we did. This wasn’t a game we could go in the 80s, certainly not against them.”
As for Edwards, Swaller recognized it was just a star player having an off night more than what his team did to shut down the junior standout.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Swaller said. “He just had an off night. Sometimes, that happens. He’s great. He’ll bounce back and be ready for the next game.”
It was the second straight year the two teams split, winning on their own home courts.
STRATFORD 58, BUNNELL 55
Khalid Moreland 5 1-2 11, Tyler Staggs-Burgess 2 0-0 4, Maximus Edwards 2 2-4 6, Elijah Alexandre 7 0-0 15, Jerrod Leak 3 0-0 7, Derrick Gyimah 2 2-2 6, Josh Giannoni 1 0-0 2, Jared Wilson 1 0-0 2, Tiyarne Coleman 0 2-2 2, Totals 23 7-12 55
Zack Fedak 2 3-4 9, Jack Ryan 5 3-4 14, Mike August 3 1-2 7, Joe August 2 3-4 7, Preston Williams 2 2-3 8, Jayquan Kirkland 5 2-2 13, Miek D’Aloia 0 0-0 0, Totals 19 14-19 58
BUNNELL 16 13 10 16–55
STRATFORD 17 12 15 13—58
3-pointers: B—Alexandre, Leak; S—Fedak 2, Williams 2, Kirkland, Ryan; Team Records: Bunnell 11-5, Stratford 12-5.