By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG - Basketball coaches will sometimes wonder how their team will respond after a hard-fought loss to a rival.
Strasburg took Central to the wire on Wednesday before falling and had little time to recover when it traveled to take on another Shenandoah County rival, Stonewall Jackson, on Friday night.
But as the old adage goes: Offense may come and go, but defense has to be a constant.
The Rams held this in their memory bank with 32 strong minutes of defense to trounce the Generals 48-21 and win for the first time this season.
"I thought we played real good defense the whole game," Strasburg coach Millson French said. "I was really afraid of this game because you have an emotional game like we had on Wednesday, then you come up here and Stonewall Jackson always plays hard.
"I was really pleased with how hard we played and the intensity. We held them to [six] field goals all night, so that's a positive."
Still winless (0-5), the Generals took a few more steps back against the Rams. When they tried to go hard to the basket, player control fouls set the Generals back. Then when they were in the half-court set and were slow to create shots, several possessions ended with travels or double dribbles.
Stonewall Jackson would finish with 34 turnovers and shoot just 6-for-25 from the field (24 percent). The Generals were down only 7-6 at the end of the first quarter, but allowed Strasburg to reel off a 12-0 run to begin the second period, and the rout was on.
"We're searching for who's going to step up and score," Stonewall Jackson coach Sophie Stout said. "They're very, very young. We've got three returners from last year, so it's definitely a rebuilding [season] for them.
"As far as working hard on defense, I can't ask for any more. But offensively, that's our true concern right now -- putting the ball in the hole. I mean, 20-couple points, you're not going to win ball games like that."
The Rams (1-3) took a little while to warm up, holding a 1-0 lead halfway through the first period. The game's first basket didn't come until Strasburg's David Jodrie scored inside after the Rams broke the press and went up 3-0 with 3:41 left. Stonewall Jackson finally got on the board with Dylan Dawson's putback at the 3:26 mark, and each team collected two more baskets before period's end.
Like many on the floor, Strasburg senior guard Bub McKelvey had trouble knocking down shots early. In the first period, McKelvey started 0-for-3. The cold start didn't bother McKelvey much, though.
"You don't really pay attention [to the misses]," McKelvey said. "You've just got to step it up and get some points later on."
As it turned out, McKelvey was the only player on either side that had a scorer's mentality.
Trying to help his teammates forget their 3-for-17 showing from the field in the first quarter, McKelvey sparked a 4-for-4 start for the Rams in the second period by draining an open 3-pointer from the top of the key for his first points and later scoring off an entry pass to the lane from Derek Buckley that sent the lead to 17-6 and forced the Generals to use a timeout.
The spurt went to 12-0 when McKelvey scored off an outlet following a turnover. The Generals made just one field goal in the second period and had as many turnovers (nine) as shots to trail 23-10 at the break.
Any hope Stonewall Jackson had of getting back in the game was erased quickly to begin the third period, with McKelvey again the source of trouble. The Generals continued to have fundamental breakdowns (11 turnovers in the third period) and McKelvey was ready to cash in and finish on the other end.
To open the third, McKelvey slashed in for an easy layup just eight seconds in. McKelvey then coasted in with a steal, again was at the top of a fast break which resulted in a three-point play, hit a free throw off another drive, and finished his personal 10-point spurt to begin the second half with another transition basket in close.
McKelvey ended up scoring 12 of his game-high 19 points in the third, getting his final points on another fast-break layup following a turnover late in the period.
"Obviously [McKelvey's] pretty talented," French said. "Right there at the beginning of the second half he was just steal and a layup, steal and a layup, steal and a layup, steal and a layup. I finally took him out and told him he was getting too many layups."
After his cold start, McKelvey missed just one more shot from the field. He did not play in the fourth, as French emptied his bench and got all 14 of his players plenty of minutes.
But even right up to the end, the Rams kept making the Generals work hard for points. Stonewall Jackson scored all five of its points in the fourth period from the foul line and took only nine shots in the entire second half.
"We've been working in practice pretty hard and we're just growing as a team, getting closer playing as a team, and executing," McKelvey said. "We played good defense and we brought some good intensity."
Following a 20-point loss in their opener at Page County, the Rams have gradually made improvements on the defensive end to keep them in games.
At least French is happy to see positives out of his defense game to game.
"I was disappointed with our defense at Page County," French said, "but we have been making strides each game and we're getting there."
Russell Hill led Stonewall Jackson with eight points.