By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG - Someone once said it and a motivational tool was born.
It's one of those Hall of Fame quotations that many coaches have faith their team can use to pull through adversity.
The old adage, "Offense comes and goes, but defense must be a constant," fit Strasburg's girls basketball team perfectly. And no matter what group of five players were on the floor, the Rams had defense. Strasburg fed off its defense and was at its best in the second quarter, outscoring Madison County 16-2 and rolling on to a district-opening 44-31 win.
Strasburg had to get through plenty of setbacks in the first half Thursday night. It started with Bull Run District foe Madison County holding the unbeaten Rams to one field goal and four points through the first seven minutes.
Then senior post Stephanie Conde picked up her second and third fouls within seconds of each other in the first minute of the second quarter and went to the bench for the rest of the first half. It must have been downright depressing when senior defensive standout Gabe Giersch rolled her left ankle and was lost for the rest of the game.
But through all their struggles and inability to score, the Rams still had something: Defense.
"For our first district game, I thought we played really hard defense," said Strasburg senior guard Jaclyn Ayers, who scored eight points in the win. "I think that kept us in the game, for the most part. We've got to keep it up."
The Rams had to have a clue that it would take a while to get everyone on the same page offensively. Strasburg had turnovers on each of its first two possessions, including a player control foul on Conde off the right block. Strasburg fell behind 4-0 and did not score until Jenna Smoot hit a free throw with 4:28 left.
For more than seven minutes, the Rams had one made basket to show for their efforts -- a three-point play by senior forward Jennifer Jackson, whose scoring would carry Strasburg in the first half.
Only a pair of late buckets allowed the Rams to gain a tie at 8 heading to the second quarter.
"Our games with Madison usually come out a little ragged," Strasburg coach Joel Morgan said. "We didn't shoot the ball well in the first quarter, but we came out in the second quarter and shot a little better. I would daresay we were down there around 20 or 30 percent shooting the ball [in the game]. We want to be better than that, for sure. But it's good to know we can go out and play good defense and get some turnovers. In the second quarter, we did take control of the game."
Things began to swing Strasburg's way when it applied full-court pressure and hawked the Mountaineers from end to end. Madison County had 14 turnovers in the second quarter, leading to 10 Strasburg points.
Even though Strasburg lost both Conde and Giersch (who could miss several games after being on crutches following the game) during the course of the period, others were ready to step up.
Neither team scored for more than two minutes, but Jackson again got in the right spot to hit a pull-up off the fast break at the 5:43 mark. Jenna Smoot (game-high 13 points) banked in a 3-pointer from the key, and Madison County called for a timeout.
Nothing could slow the Rams. Ayers sandwiched two free throws between two baskets by Jackson, and the Rams had a 19-8 lead.
The Mountaineers (1-9, 0-1) finally broke their drought to get a baseline-to-baseline basket from Rachel Strahan (team-best 12 points), but Smoot hit a jumper, and Ally Kauffman drained a 3-pointer off the right wing to beat the buzzer and give Strasburg a 24-10 lead at the half.
"Once one person gets into it, I think everyone [else] contributes," Jackson said. "That helped us a lot."
The play of Jackson around the basket continues to be a plus for Strasburg. The senior forward scored all 11 of her points in the first half, outscoring Madison County by herself in the first 16 minutes.
"[Jackson's] really come on for us and the game's really slowed down for her," Morgan said. "I told them at halftime that Jennifer held us in there in the first half. That's been nice to see and she's been giving us some really good minutes."
The Rams continued to roll in the third quarter, getting points from five players and baskets from four. Ayers and Smoot scored four points apiece, and Strasburg headed to the fourth holding a 40-19 lead. That kind of advantage allowed Morgan to use his bench for most of the last period and give his seniors a well-earned rest.
"The defense is a key and it's always been that way for us," Ayers said. "I mean, we do have our off nights [offensively], but we came on later in the game."