Bunnell-Stratford in dogfight

The Bunnell High boys basketball team is guard heavy.
The Bulldogs ran through most of their first five opponents before Saturday night’s second showdown of the season against Stratford High.
Bunnell had averaged 81.4 points behind the play of senior backcourt mates Matt Nolting and Tim White and sophomore Ryan Pittman.
But once they closed the doors at the Needham Gym and began turning people away, the high-scoring Bulldogs knew they were in for a dogfight.
Nolting, White and Pittman did their jobs, but it was 6-5 forward Isaac Vann who became the man, leading the Bulldogs on a second-half run which led to a 56-51 victory and a season’s sweep of the Red Devils.
Bunnell won an earlier contest easily, 82-62, back on Dec. 18.
Vann scored 20 points, 15 of them coming in the second half, and had 15 rebounds along with five blocked shots, one of them coming late in the game against Stratford’s star player, Bernard Brantley, when the contest was on the line.
Brantley had 19 points and 10 rebounds, but he was denied from having a perimeter game by White whose tenacious defense forced him to go to the hoop almost all of the time.
Leading 54-51, the Bulldogs’ Adam Samuel pulled down a rebound off a missed 3-pointer and was fouled by Stratford’s Sam Breiner, his fifth of the game.
Samuel, who finished with 11 points, knocked down both shots with three seconds showing, assuring Bunnell of its fifth win in its first six games.
Stratford (3-2) came into the closing eight minutes trailing 45-35, but the Red Devils kept chipping away.
They pulled to within two points, 49-47, on a putback basket by Nick DiIulio, who had four points to go along with 12 rebounds.
Brantley made it a one-point game, 51-50, when he scored with 1:30 remaining.
A basket by Vann made it 53-50 before Brantley (7-of-13) made the first of two free throws with 54 seconds left.
But Nolting converted one-of-two with 17 seconds left before Brantley’s missed 3-pointer.
“We made the big plays and the free throws in the end when we had to,” Bunnell coach Pat Yerina said. “Isaac made a big difference for us up front. We were hurting in the first half. We gave up way too many second shots.”
Stratford, which had a commanding 57-41 rebounding edge, led 12-11 after one quarter and 27-26 at intermission, after Will Hudson made a pair of free throws after time had expired.
Bunnell took a 31-29 lead early in the third quarter on a Nolting 3-pointer and never trailed after that.
“This is such an emotional game,” Stratford coach Paul Dudzinski said. “There were times when maybe we got just a little too much ahead of ourselves out there.
“But we had a nice comeback. If a shot had gone here, or if we had grabbed a rebound there, the outcome might’ve been different.”
The stabilizing force for Bunnell was Vann.
“We wanted to just simply outwork them in their own gym,” he said. “We had to step up at the end and close out the game, and we did.”
Neither team had a good shooting night. Bunnell was 18-of-57, with four 3-pointers, for 31 percent. The Red Devils connected on 18-of-62, with no 3-pointers, for 29 percent.
Bunnell made 16-of-22 free-throw attempts, while Stratford was 15-of-24.
Stratford turned the ball over 20 times compared to 14 for Bunnell.

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