STRATFORD—When the Stratford boys basketball team is clicking, it’s almost as if the Red Devils have played together forever.
Of course, they almost have.
The team, which boasts seven seniors who have been tight-knit since grade school, threw a balanced attack at the Harding Presidents on Thursday night inside the Needham Gym to post a 78-63 victory.
“We’ve been playing with each other or against each other for a long time,” Stratford senior tri-captain Mike August said. “We’re all best friends. It’s not like we’re putting the pieces together here. We’ve been staying at each other’s houses, hanging out, since we were six, seven years old. The chemistry is there. We trust each other.”
Five Stratford players scored in double figures with another added nine points to showcase the team’s balance as the Red Devils improved to 2-1.
Joe August, a junior, led the way with 16 points while Jack Ryan and Zack Fedak added 14 points each. Mike August chipped in 13 more while John Bike tallied 10 and freshman Jayquan Kirkland tallied nine.
Mike August helped spearhead Stratford’s hot start in the first quarter and aided the Red Devils’ finishing kick. He netted seven points in the first eight minutes and six in the final eight to help Stratford ice the game.
“My effort is just I’m at the point where I’m a senior and I’m going to bust my butt to do whatever the team needs to win and go from there,” Mike August said. “I think we all know everybody can score on this team, so I take it upon myself to swallow my pride and do whatever it takes to win.”
Sparked by Mike August, Stratford raced out to a 12-2 lead on the Presidents.
Not even a timeout by Harding coach John Bagley could stem the Stratford surge as a pair of Fedak 3-point shots sandwiched an 11-0, quarter-finishing run that gave the Red Devils a 23-5 lead.
“I thought we were very balanced,” Stratford coach Tim Swaller said. “We shot well early, we were very unselfish with the ball. We were able to get things going and from there we had the confidence the rest of the way.”
In the second quarter, Kirkland scored all nine of his points to help build the Red Devils lead as high as 40-17 with 1:59 left in the half.
By the break, Stratford took a 47-21 lead into the locker room.
Swaller reminded his team during the intermission that these Presidents wouldn’t just shut things down and fly to Mar-a-Lago for the New Year, though.
“We said at halftime that we’ve been slow or sluggish in the third and we knew (Harding would) respond and go on a run, which they did,” the Stratford coach said.
In fact, Harding opened the third quarter with a 13-4 spurt and used that momentum to cut the Stratford lead to 14 (59-45) entering the final quarter.
“The third quarter has been our Achille’s Heel and we have to figure out how to get away from that,” Mike August said.
In the fourth quarter, the Presidents kept coming.
A 6-0 spurt by Harding to open the final eight minutes cut the lead to eight at 59-51.
Then came the defensive play of the game.
Following a Stratford turnover, the Presidents were racing up the court for a fast-break layup when Fedak saved the day with a steal from behind.
“It knew it was going to get all crazy, so I just had to get back on defense and it worked out for us,” said Fedak, who prides himself on his defensive efforts as much as he does his patented baseline 3-point shot. “Whatever gets me on the floor. I’m going to do whatever I can to help us win the game. That’s what it comes down to.”
On Stratford’s ensuing possession, Joe August finished an and-one lay-in and converted the conventional 3-point play to push the lead back to 11 at 62-51 with 6:18 to play.
He then followed that by drawing another foul—and a technical foul—to drop in a couple more foul shots to make it 64-51.
Harding got two points back, but Mike August scored Stratford’s next five points to push the lead to 69-53.
From there, the Red Devils kept working the clock to wrap up their second win of the season.
“It’s all about being unselfish” Mike August said. “We want to win more than individual stats. That’s what we’re going by this year.”
Added Swaller, “We were able to keep our composure down the stretch. We were able to withstand the run and maintain things to the end.”
For Harding, Marcel Robinson led the way with 21 points.
Life doesn’t get easier for Stratford, which will host FCIAC preseason favorite Trumbull on Saturday at 5 p.m., back at Needham.