The Stratford High School boys basketball team will take the court Monday night against Maysville in the first round of the Big 8 Conference Tournament regardless of the outcome of tonight’s Class A football semifinal contest between the Bulldogs and Morrison.
“We’re going to have to play no matter what. I’ve got enough in the gym to go play. We just won’t have much depth,” said Stratford head coach Mark Qualls.
Stratford and Maysville will tip off Monday at 6 p.m. in Paoli.
“Of all the times for me to have the very first game of the tournament, it’s this year. But we’ll jump in there with both feet and see what happens,” Qualls said.
The Bulldog hoopsters certainly won’t head to Paoli void of talent, even without a full roster.
Leading the non-football contingent for the Bulldogs will be seniors Dalen Qualls and Matthew Knight, the team’s top two scorers and rebounders from a year ago. Qualls was among the top scorers in the state, averaging 33.6 points per game to go with 10.1 rebounds while Knight followed at 17 points and 8.6 rebounds per outing.
Fellow seniors Cody Purgason, Michael Judd and Jordan Alberson will also see significant playing time at the tournament.
“We’re chomping at the bit,” Mark Qualls said. “I have a son that is eager to get going too. But Dalen understands. He’s just raring to go.”
The veteran Stratford basketball coach said even though the football team’s success has delayed the opening of basketball season — Stratford had to postpone games with local rivals Konawa (Nov. 30) and Vanoss (tonight) already — he hopes to see the Bulldogs hoisting a gold ball before his players exchange pads for sneakers.
“It’s a good thing. It’s good for the community, the school and the kids. There’s a lot of excitement around here right now. We’ll get where we need to eventually. Hopefully they can win this week and next,” Qualls said.
Some of the top players that will join the Stratford basketball season after the football team is finished include Tommy Lawson, a starter from a year ago, along with Regand Ardery, Nick Cosby, Tyler Gaines and Alix Vanlandingham.
“It will take them a while to get in the swing of things, even when I get them,” Qualls said. “The big thing is that you know everybody you play has a big head start. Maysville, for instance, has already played three games.”
Another returning starter, Clay Rindal, injured his shoulder during football and his return to the basketball team in uncertain at this point. Chase Chamberlain, the quarterback for the football team, has opted not to play basketball this season.
Stratford was voted the top seed in the conference tournament and Qualls still expects his team to contend for the title even if the Bulldogs are short-handed.
“We still plan on winning it. Of course the biggest obstacle is (second-seeded) Elmore City. We just have to stay out of foul trouble,” he said. “And our style of play may be hindered a bit. We really like to get after it and due to the depth, we may not be able to.”
The Stratford girls will open their 2010-11 season Tuesday night, meeting Elmore City at 7:30 p.m. in a first-round matchup at the Big 8 Conference Tournament.
Stratford rescheduled its home game with Konawa for Monday, Dec. 20 and will play at Vanoss Feb. 11.