Stratford defeats Sheehan in first round tussle

Bernard Brantley (25) and Eric Rankin scored 17 points each to lead the attack when Stratford High defeated Sheehan of Wallingford, 49-46, in its Class L opener on Tuesday.
(Photo by Bill Bloxsom)

Bernard Brantley took care of business down the stretch, after Eric Rankin had provided Stratford High with the early lift it needed, and the Red Devils defeated Sheehan of Wallingford in the first round of the Class L state tournament at the Ray Needham Memorial Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
Coach Paul Dudzinski’s ninth-seeded team will take on eighth-seeded Career Magnet School, at 7 on Thursday at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.
The Panthers (14-7) defeated 25th-seeded Daniel Hand of Madison, 53-31, in their first round game.
“I have much respect for (coach) Joe Gaetano and the Sheehan team, they fought us to the end.” Dudzinski said. “They like to get out and run and that was a problem for us.
“This wasn’t the prettiest (of wins). We have good chemistry, and they try hard, but we need to clean up some things before we go to New Haven and take on a very good Career team.”
Stratford (14-7) received 17 points from Brantley and Rankin to advance past the 24th-seeded Titans (10-11).
Rankin scored Stratford’s first seven points, but Sheehan kept pace and tied things at 7 for the first of five deadlocks.
After the Red Devils’ Evan Velleca knocked down a 3-pointer, Rankin scored on a 12-footer.
Sheehan took a 16-12 lead after one period behind three run-out baskets.
Neither team lit up the scoreboard in the second quarter, but Stratford had enough to take a 24-23 lead into the locker room.
After going 1-for-9 from the floor to start the stanza, Brantley scored at the 3:40 mark — the senior’s first basket on only his second shot.
He drained a 3-pointer the next trip down and then added a free throw.
Sheehan’s Kyle Buntin, who scored four points in each of the first two periods, tied things at 23 before another Brantley free throw gave Stratford the lead at the break.
The third period also lacked firepower, but Stratford’s defense blanked Sheehan for the final 3:32 of the quarter.
Stratford, however, never did fire the dagger it needed during this stretch to put away the Titans, but Nick DiIulio supplied four points and attacked the backboards.
Brantley and Velleca added 3-pointers and Stratford took a 34-31 lead into the final period.
Rankin scored two hoops to boost the advantage to 38-31 before Sheehan broke a 6:03 scoreless stretch on a pair of Mike Tiedemann free throws with 5:29 remaining in the game.
Rankin scored his final basket, after a great move gave the junior room to drop a left-handed shot off the glass at the 3:38 mark.
Brantley then took control, as the he answered Justin MacDonald’s drive and three-point play, which cut the Stratford lead to 40-36, with a basket, foul, and free throw of his own.
Rankin blocked MacDonald’s next attempt before it got to the window, DiIulio rebounded the miss, and the junior scored a press-break bucket down the other end off an assist from Sam Breiner.
Tommy Laydon banked home an eight-footer to draw Sheehan within 45-40 with the clock closing in on a minute remaining.
Stratford put the ball in Brantley’s hands here, and he made four straight free throws to negate a pair of late baskets by the Titans.
“Eric is coming into his own, Bernard was balanced and under control when we needed him, and with Marcus (Vereen) we have three good guards,” Dudzinski said.
“Bernard is very important to us…He’s going to draw a crowd, and we needed everyone to get out of the gym with a win.”
Brantley agreed.
“We were a little shaky being the first playoff game, but then everyone got into it and went with the flow of the game.
“We needed to stop their penetration in the fourth quarter and execute on offense.
“Eric was a very big player for us early and then finished (for us) late. Everyone stepped it up at the end.”

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