TORRINGTON—The Stratford boys basketball team had taken Torrington’s opening punch and bounced back.
A combination of second half shots doomed the Red Devils, however.
Twelfth-seeded Stratford made the long trip to fifth-seeded Torrington on Thursday night, falling in the second round of the CIAC Division III tournament by a 72-47 count.
“You always want more, but I’m extremely proud of this group for what we accomplished,” Stratford coach Tim Swaller said. “And they should be, too. We had a great year.”
Senior Mike August led the Red Devils with 23 points while Jack Ryan added 11, finishing his career with 1,068 points. Zach Fedak added eight points.
Devin Dixon dominated the paint en route to 20 points for Torrington while Joel Villanueva added 19.
Torrington came out on fire early, making seven of their first nine shots.
The Red Devils went toe-to-toe with the Raiders, though, bouncing back from a trio of seven-point deficits to trail by just three (20-17) at the end of the first quarter.
Baskets by Jack Ryan, Mike August and Zach Fedak—a 3-pointer—to open the second quarter actually pushed Stratford into the lead, 24-22, forcing Torrington to burn a timeout
The two teams kept at it, going into halftime tied at 29-apiece.
That’s when Torrington coach Eric Gamari made a coaching adjustment, switching from man-to-man to a 2-3 match-up zone.
“We practiced man all week, but we’ve played a lot of zone,” Gamari said. “We watched how Stratford was moving and how we were moving, and we said let’s try zone and it worked. So we stayed in it.”
Torrington extended out on Stratford’s shooters, who went ice cold, and the Red Devils couldn’t find open spaces in the crevices of the defense.
“It surprised us a little bit,” Ryan admitted. “We thought we’d see man because of how well we’d been shooting. They out-hustled us. They shell-shocked us a bit. We just didn’t play our best in the second half. It’s a tough one to swallow.”
Swaller said the game simply came down to his team missing shots with Torrington making well over 50 percent of theirs.
“We shoot well, but in the second half they went to that zone as a change of pace and we just didn’t make our shots,” Swaller said. “We’ve seen a lot of two-three zones. We almost went ice cold. Shots we usually make just did not fall.”
A lay-up by Ryan gave Stratford a 33-31 lead with 6:55 left in the third quarter.
The Red Devils would only score two more points the rest of the quarter while Torrington went on a 17-2 tear to take control of the game.
An offensive rebound put-back, a blatantly missed traveling call and Ryan get flattened on what could have been a player control foul were just three of the plays that left Stratford on the unlucky side of things.
When the dust settled at the end of three it was 48-35, Raiders, who just got hotter in the final stanza.
“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in the hoop,” Mike August said. “We got off to a shot start and it seemed like everything was falling. It sucks, but it’s not something you can hang your head on.”
While the game wasn’t physical, both teams were getting away with a large amount of reaching on defense, especially on drives to the hoop.
Only 12 fouls were called the entire game—five in the first half, seven in the second.
Torrington advances to the Division III quarterfinals while Stratford wraps up the season 14-9 overall.
“We were talking about what if we went to the (Mohegan) Sun (for the state championship game),” Fedak said. “Maybe we couldn’t have, but everybody talks about it. We wanted it so bad, but we just came up short. They were the better team tonight, but it’s tough to go out like this.”
Torrington 72, Stratford 47
Zach Fedak 3 0-0 8; Jack Ryan 4 2-2 11; Mike August 8 4-4 23; Joe August 1 0-0 2; Preston Williams 1 0-0 2; John Bike 0 1-2 1; Totals: 17 7-8 47.
Dontae Thomas 4 2-211; Tyreek Davis 4 1-4 10; Joel Villanueva 7 2-2 19; C.J. Root 4 0-0 10; Devin Dixon 10 0-1 20; Adam Vanotti 1 0-0 2; Totals: 30 5-9 72.
STRATFORD 17 12 6 12 — 47
TORRINGTON 20 9 19 24 — 72
3-point goals: S—M. August 3, Fedak 2, Ryan; M. August 3. T— Villanueva 3, Root 2, Thomas, Davis. Records: Stratford 14-9; Torrington 18-6.