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Stratford’s Teddy Redman slams down a dunk during the second half of the Tigers’ 71-36 win over Neillsville in a WIAA Division 4 boys basketball regional final Saturday night at Stratford High School. (Photo by Paul Lecker/For Zaleski Sports)

By Paul Lecker For Zaleski Sports

STRATFORD – The length and athleticism of Stratford, especially on the defensive end, can make a good team look pedestrian.

The Tigers’ trapping zone was on full display Saturday night in a WIAA Division 4 boys basketball regional final and made a conference champion team in Neillsville look ordinary.

Stratford held Neillsville to 32 percent shooting, forced 23 turnovers and rolled to a 71-36 win at Stratford High School.

Stratford remains unbeaten, improving to 23-0, and will take on Marawood Conference South Division rival Auburndale in a D-4 sectional semifinal Thursday at Wausau West High School. The Tigers defeated Auburndale (20-4) by 29 and 19 points in conference play this season. Auburndale reached the sectional by defeating another Marawood South foe, Edgar, 41-33 on Saturday.

Neither team scored for the first three minutes before Stratford put together a 7-0 run and never trailed. A three-point play by Ben Barten capped the spurt and the Tigers were off and running.

Neillsville closed to within 13-8 after a 3-pointer from Alex King and a three-point play by Josiah Katcher before Stratford scored the next nine points.

After Neillsville closed to within 28-20 with just under two minutes to go in the half, Stratford closed the first half on an 8-0 run as Vaughn Breit scored on three consecutive possessions and Barten added another hoop with 18 seconds to go, giving the Tigers a 36-20 lead at the break.

“I’m proud of the guys and what they did and how they played defense,” Stratford coach Curt Schmidt said. “We did a good job of containing their drives, I thought we closed out well on their shooters, and I just thought it was a great team effort. The kids were playing really, really hard.”

That was as close as it would be as Stratford dominated the second half, holding Neillsville to 6-for-20 shooting the rest of the way.

The Tigers outscored Neillsville (20-4) 27-6 over the first 10 minutes, highlighted by dunks from Breit and Teddy Redman.

Breit finished with a game-high 17 points and added seven rebounds, Barten had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Chandler Schmidt made 5 of 6 shots and also scored 15, Redman added 11 points, and Dawson Danen scored 10 as each of the five Stratford seniors that make up the starting lineup hit for double figures.

Overall, Neillsville made just 12 of 37 shots, while Stratford was an efficient 28 of 57 and had just nine turnovers. King, who averaged a team-high 20 points per game this season for Neillsville, led the Warriors with 11 points and was limited to 2-for-13 shooting by a swarming Stratford defense.

“It’s a long season and the goal is to give it all you’ve got,” Curt Schmidt said. “There’s no tomorrow, especially for our seniors. We’re a fairly senior-dominated team, we have eight, and this is their last home game here at Stratford. They’re undefeated here the last two years and I’m real proud of their effort.”

Now comes another game against rival Auburndale.

“They’re going to be tough,” Curt Schmidt concluded. “They’re a tough matchup. They play hard. We have a tough conference. We’re going to have to be ready and play hard. It will be at neutral floor and it will be a rocking time.”

Tigers 71, Warriors 36 Neillsville 20 16 – 36 Stratford 36 35 – 71 NEILLSVILLE (36): Taytor Lowry 0-0 0-0 0, Isaac Weiers 0-1 0-0 0, Braden Trunkel 2-5 0-0 6, Kaleb Walsh 0-0 0-0 0, Alex King 2-13 6-7 11, Andrew Brown 2-6 2-4 6, Monte Diestler 3-7 0-0 6, Josiah Katcher 3-4 1-1 7, Michael Bryne 0-0 0-0 0, Mason Roenz 0-1 0-0 0, Santana Subke 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 12-37. FT: 9-12. 3-pointers: 3-16 (Trunkel 2-5, King 1-7, Brown 0-2, Diestler 0-2). Rebounds: 20 (Katcher 4). Turnovers: 23. Fouls: 16. Fouled out: Brown. Record: 20-4. STRATFORD (71): Teddy Redman 5-13 1-1 11, Cody Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Max Vanderhoof 0-5 0-0 0, Chandler Schmidt 5-6 2-2 15, Dawson Danen 3-10 3-4 10, Tyler Lappe 1-1 0-0 2, Jake Skroch 0-1 0-0 0, Keegan Weiler 0-0 0-1 0, Caden Bruesewitz 0-0 1-2 1, Vaughn Breit 8-12 1-2 17, Camden Daul 0-0 0-0 0, Ben Barten 6-7 3-5 15, Nick Fox 0-1 0-0 0. FG: 28-57. FT: 11-17. 3-pointers: 4-16 (Schmidt 3-4, Danen 1-4, Skroch 0-1, Fox 0-1, Breit 0-1, Vanderhoof 0-2, Redman 0-3). Rebounds: 32 (Barten 10). Turnovers: 9. Fouls: 10. Fouled out: none. Record: 23-0.