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Lady Gators hold off Stratford in Round 1

    MACON — Bulloch Academy withstood a tremendous second-half rally to defeat Stratford Academy 41-35 in the opening round of the GISA Class AAA girls’ basketball tournament Wednesday.
    Senior Anna Newton scored a game-high 15 points and sophomore Ashley Burke added 12 to lead the Lady Gators (26-3) into Friday’s second round.
    Bulloch will face Calvary Christian School from Columbus at 4 p.m. at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon. The Eaglettes end their season at 14-13.
    Bulloch led by as many as 17 points  in the third quarter but the scrappy Stratford squad trimmed it to as little as four midway through the final period.
    “Stratford shot the ball really well,” said BA head coach Paul Webb. “They are a really athletic team. Before the game, I told our girls that if they got them down, they had to keep them down because they weren’t going to give up without a fight.”
    Bulloch, the top seeded team from Region 4-AAA, took the opening tip and set up against the Stratford 2-1-2 defense. Burke took advantage of the opening and popped two consecutive three pointers from the left wing.
    “Ashley played really well for being so sick,” said Webb. “I went into the locker room at halftime and she’s over in the corner using a breathing machine.”
    The Lady Gators dominated on the defensive boards as Newton and sophomore Pate Lomax wiped the glass clean. BA’s defense kept Stratford, the fourth seed from Region 2-AAA, off  balance as well.
    Senior Lauren Dennard put up an eight-footer from the left baseline for an 8-2 lead and Newton hit her shot from the elbow for a 10-2 advantage.
    The Eaglettes seemed to come alive in the second quarter, battling with Bulloch for loose balls and rebounds. Still, junior Chelsea Oglesby connected twice for a 14-3 lead by the 5:25 mark.
    But Stratford went on an 8-0 run in the middle of the quarter to cut the BA lead to 14-11.
    SA’s Harbor Hicks and Caroline Avant began crashing the boards.
    Lane Bowden notched five points during the run, which saw bad shot selection by the Lady Gators and numerous turnovers. Bowden led Stratford with 13 points.
    Bulloch was able to stop the bleeding late in the quarter. Newton canned a running jumper and the additional foul shot at the 2:53 mark. Oglesby pushed in a layup after a Dennard steal and feed for a 19-11 halftime lead.
    Burke started off the third quarter the same way as she started the game, nailing a three-pointer for a 22-11 lead at the 7:08 mark.
    Newton got hot, hitting three in a row as the Lady Gators went up 30-15. Lomax’s putback with 3:43 left gave Bulloch its biggest lead of the night.
    Stratford’s 2-2-1 press, which had been a minor distraction early in the quarter, tightened as the Eaglettes played harder and more aggressive. Hicks worked the boards while Bowden and Lucy Bobbit led the offense. SA went on a 9-0 run to trim the lead to 32-24 late in the quarter. Bobbitt had 10 points on the night.
    “Their aggressive man defense gave us more trouble than their press,” said Webb.
    The Eaglettes turned up the heat in the fourth, cutting the Lady Gator lead to six, 35-29. The press and Stratford’s man defense caused Bulloch major problems, which rattled the Statesboro girls.
Newton added two baskets as Bulloch kept ahead of the Stratford surge. Bowden’s bomb with 1:18 left cut the lead to four, 37-33.
But Bulloch, led by Lomax and Burke, stood tall in the final minutes. Both had crucial baskets in the final minute. Lomax played strong underneath while Burke’s ball handling helped keep the ball away from Stratford.
“I thought we did a good job of regaining our composure,” said Webb.