ND-Fairfield turns back Stratford
The worst, the Notre Dame-Fairfield boys basketball team hopes, is behind it.
Far behind it.
The defending SWC champs saw their season rocked earlier this month with the dismissal of a pair of players, but the Lancers seemed to have since been able to right the ship.
Friday night against Stratford, Notre Dame posted its second straight victory -- a 77-66 win at Reilly Auditorium. The Lancers had their three battle-tested veterans -- senior Arkel Miles and juniors Danny Upchurch and Earl Coleman -- to thank, as the trio combined for 53 points.
"There's still a lot of season left, you never know what to expect," said Miles, who finished with a team-high 23 points. "We decided to stay positive. It's good right now, we're taking it one game at a time and that helps right now."
The bulk of the remaining minutes for the Lancers (7-4, 4-2 SWC) go to sophomore Jaylon Jennings and freshmen Jake Heaton, Donte Peeler and CJ Davidson. Miles said it was important for the veterans to keep their heads and impart what they know to the younger players to help prevent the season from swirling away.
"We have to stay in their ear and motivate and mentor them," Miles said.
Stratford (5-6, 3-3) dropped its third straight despite a game-high 25 points from junior standout Bernard Brantley. Marcus Vereen and Kyle Small chipped in with 16 and 12 points, respectively, for the Red Devils.
"We're struggling," Red Devils coach Paul Dudzinski said. "The difference was Arkel. We didn't have an answer."
After a back-and-forth first half, where neither team led by more than five points, the Lancers got some breathing room midway through the third with an 11-0 run triggered by points from four different players that put them ahead 48-40. The run also kept Stratford off the scoreboard for nearly four minutes.
Whenever Notre Dame needed a hoop it was able to dump it down to Miles in the post, where Stratford was unable to stop him.
The Red Devils remained within outside striking distance -- a 3-pointer by Brantley with 1:06 left in the fourth cut the Lancers lead to 67-61 -- but Notre Dame hit its free throws down the stretch to close the win out.
"They play hard, they have those three kids who've been in those battles, Earl, Danny and Arkel," Dudzinski said. "Those are three good players. Vinny (Laczkoski) is a great coach, he's not going to take a step back, he's going to coach them up."
Laczkoski is optimistic that his team has moved past the abrupt dismissals of starting point guard Tre McPherson and freshman Marcus Blackwell, who is now playing at Central, and is hopeful the Lancers are in position to make a run in the final month of the regular season.
Notre Dame also should get a lift from the return next week of senior guard Nnamdi Gogoh, who's missed the entire year because of injury.
"You can see, it's one day at a time. It's one play, one quarter, one half at a time and thank God the kids are buying into it," he said. "Those kids went through so much and we're done talking about it."