MACOMB — Nothing came easy for the Stratford boys basketball team in 2005-2006. Why should the playoffs be any different?

Mark Qualls’ club posted its fourth straight 20-win campaign and finished the regular season ranked No. 13 in Class A but lost two starters for the second half of the season, had another — Jeremy Lavorchek — miss the district round of the playoffs, and, for the second straight year, fell victim to a brutal draw in the regional tournament.

Ninth-ranked Okarche finally put the Bulldogs out of their misery Monday afternoon, building a a 44-24 halftime lead and coasting to an 80-65 victory behind a combined 61 points from Daniel Crossley and Tyler Karr in a marquee loser’s bracket match-up from one of the state’s toughest regionals.

With the victory, Okarche (24-4) moved on to the area tournament, along with champ Waurika and runner-up Varnum. The Eagles, who beat Stratford in the first round of regional play, claimed the title Monday evening with a 56-54 victory.

In girls loser’s bracket play, Stratford’s Cinderella playoff run finally ended, but not without a fight, as the Lady Bulldogs were eliminated, 48-39, by Okarche after leading for most of the game.


Okarche 80, Stratford 65

Stratford never led and tied the score only twice — the last time at 10-10 on a 3-point play by Garan Qualls with 3:09 left in the first quarter — before Okarche finished the opening period on a 12-0 run to grab a 22-10 lead heading to the second.

Greg Grellner had two of his three 3-pointers (and one of eight by Okarche) in the game during the decisive spurt, and Crossley — who finished with 32 points — and Karr combined for the other six points, with Crossley draining a jumper at the buzzer for the Warriors’ 12-point lead.

Okarche still led by a dozen (34-22) after a free throw by Jeremy Lavorchek midway through the second quarter, but the Warriors scored eight straight points and 10 of the final 12 in the half (six by Karr) to take their 20-point lead at intermission.

Lavorchek (who led Stratford with 19 points) and T. J. Gaines (who scored 13) had eight points apiece in the third quarter as the Bulldogs trimmed the Okarche lead to 61-47 heading to the final eight minutes, and Stratford cut it to 11 on a 3-pointer by Donnie Bethers with 7:35 to play.

Karr hit a pair of free throws and a layup in the next 50 seconds, however, to make it 65-50, and, although a late 6-0 Stratford run (capped by a Brian Carter 3-pointer with 2:32 remaining) trimmed the Okarche lead to 10 (71-61), the Bulldogs (20-5) couldn’t get closer.

Crossley was 4-for-6 from 3-point range and 12-of-16 overall, and Karr finished with 29 points (24 in the final three quarters) on 10-of-19 shooting and also grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds as Okarche outrebounded Stratford, 38-32. Grellner had just one free throw in the second half but was also in double figures for the Warriors with 10 points.

Lavorchek, who didn’t score in the first quarter, was just 7-for-19 from the field but grabbed nine rebounds and had three of Stratford’s four steals to go with his 19 points. Garan Qualls had 16 points but had just one field goal and five points in the second half, while Gaines scored 11 of his 13 points after intermission (on 4-of-5 shooting) after picking up three early fouls and also had seven boards. Carter also had a solid overall game with 10 points, six rebounds and an assist.


Okarche 48, Stratford 39

The Lady Bulldogs, who scored two-point victories in their previous two playoff games, led for most of the first half before trailing, 23-21, at intermission, and they took a 33-28 lead on a layup by Laura Knight off a Kourtney Harris assist with 2:15 left in the third quarter before Jamie Reherman’s 3-pointer 15 seconds later pulled the Lady Warriors to with two points heading to the fourth.

Okarche (17-11) scored the first six points of the final period before Courtney Evans — who scored 11 of her 16 points in the second half — drained a 3-pointer with 6:04 left to pull Stratford to within two at 37-35, and the Lady Bulldogs seemed to have things going their way after Okarche starters Audrey Raupe and Kristi Brueggen fouled out within 34 seconds of each other midway through the fourth quarter.

Becky Rindal, who drew Raupe’s fifth foul, sank two free throws to pull Stratford to within two points (39-37) with 4:16 remaining, but Reherman and Katie Beebe combined to outscore the Lady Bulldogs, 9-2, the rest of the way.

Stratford led 12-7 after one quarter and, after falling behind late in the second period, rallied to take a 21-20 lead when Rindal drove the baseline for a layup (her fourth bucket of the quarter) 50 seconds before intermission. Rindal picked up two quick fouls, however, during a flurry in the final 10 seconds that saw Okarche get offensive rebounds a free throw apiece from three different players to take a 23-21 lead into the locker room.

Rindal sat out the third quarter with three fouls, but Stratford outscored Okarche, 12-8, in the period, behind Evans’ eight points.

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