Stratford answers call

Coach Paul Dudzinski has brought state titles and a competitive boys basketball team to Stratford High and this year’s squad is trying to fit that mold.
“I’m not by nature a get-in-you-face screamer,” said Dudzinski after his Red Devils defeated New Milford 64-43 in a South-West Conference contest at the Ed Needham Gymnasium in Stratford on Friday night. “But sometimes this team needs to be reminded of what it takes to win.
“I wasn’t happy with the start, and after the timeout, I felt we started to show the effort we need. We have to come to compete all-out all the time.”
New Milford (4-6) bolted to a 10-3 lead and Dudzinski asked the officials for a timeout.
After the break, the Red Devils (6-3) started to take away avenues to the lane and narrowed the deficit to 19-15 after one.
Eric Rankin scored eight of his game-high 24 points in the opening stanza, and Marcus Vereen made three shots from the floor.
It was stronger work off the backboards, led by Nick DiIulio, Will Hudson and Arron Smith, that slowed the Green Wave.
Stratford’s defense limited New Milford to one basket, and four points, and dominated the second period 22-14 to take a healthy 37-23 lead into the half.
Rankin had 10 points in the run, with Emmanuel Young and Sam Breiner knocking down 3-pointers.
Breiner’s three came from behind a screen set by Smith to begin the second quarter.
Young drained his trey off the dribble, and at 28-23 Rankin scored on three straight possessions, once off a rebound and twice on drives to the rim.
Rankin, DiIulio and Bryan Lesperance blocked shots in the canto, and Rankin added a pair of steals.
Trenice McBroom and Anthony Moncovich added strong minutes off the bench, with McBroom muscling inside for a putback bucket.
Stratford was 9-for-16 from the floor to 1-for-13 for New Milford.
There were only three foul shots taken in the first two quarters, with each team making one.
Stratford didn’t let up in the third stanza, as it outscored the Green Wave by a 21-5 margin, with Vereen notching 10 of his 22 points.
DiLulio assisted on Stratford’s first two baskets — 3-pointers from Vereen and Small — with passes out of double teams.
Stratford was 9-for-13 from the floor, and DiIulio added another blocked shots and three defensive rebounds.
Smith was rewarded for his hard work throughout with a run-out hoop and an assist on another Vereen shot from beyond the arc.
Lesperance ended the third quarter with a basket off a cut to the hoop after a fine pass from Mike McClean.
The Red Devils took a 58-28 lead into the final frame, where New Milford regained some of its offense to close the gap.
Patrick Lepesko scored inside off a McBroom assist to lead Stratford.
“We’re trying, we’re trying to get better,” said Dudzinski of his team, which has been without its injured leading scorer Bernard Brantley for four games. “We have to keep playing as a team and when the opportunity is there share the ball.”
Vereen scored 12 points, Rankin nine and DiIulio seven when Stratford traveled to Redding and knocked off SWC rival Joel Barlow by a count of 43-35 on Jan. 15.
The Red Devils recovered from a 13-6 first-quarter deficit to win the remaining periods (12-7, 12-9, 13-6).
DiIulio added nine rebounds and four steals, as Barlow dropped to 3-6.

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