By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Homestanding Strasburg proved why it's the number one team in Group A girls basketball on Tuesday, systematically crushing a very respectable Manassas Park team 62-24 in Bull Run District action.
"They're a really good basketball team," Manassas Park coach Doug West said of the Rams. "They play a tough man-to-man defense and they play it about as well as it can be played. We made too many turnovers tonight to be competitive with a team like Strasburg, but their defense had a lot to do with that."
Manassas Park committed 32 turnovers for the night, compared to the Rams' 12. But that was just one of several problems that the Cougars were never able to overcome. Manassas Park's two best players suffered from foul trouble and were harassed by a tenacious Rams' defense led by sophomores Corissa Alsberry and Katlyn Ayers.
Erica Clayton, who is the second-leading scorer for the Cougars, had the unenviable task of trying to cover Rams center Jenna Smoot in the paint, and paid for it. The Manassas Park junior had three fouls by the end of the first quarter and finished the night with just two points.
"That really hurt, having Erica in foul trouble so early in the game," West said.
The Cougars' top scorer, Che Brown, was hounded all night by Ayers and Alsberry, who kept her from having any real effect on the outcome of the game.
"Brown is our number one player and a 1,000-point scorer for us over her career," West said. "She really had an off night, but the Strasburg defense had a lot to do with that, too."
Brown did manage to score 14 points, but it was well below her usual performance.
"Brown's a very good player and we knew that coming into the game," Rams coach Joel Morgan said. "I felt good about putting Corissa and Katlyn on her, though. But the rest of the team understood that they needed to be aware of her and help out. I thought we did a good job of making it difficult for her."
While her younger sister was helping to shut down the Cougars offense, Jaclyn Ayers joined with Smoot to overwhelm Manassas Park offensively. Jaclyn Ayers scored seven of her 13 points in the opening period, helping the Rams jump ahead 15-8 after eight minutes of play.
Smoot was even more dominating, scoring a game-high 24 points. With the Rams leading 29-16 at halftime, the Strasburg senior exploded for 12 third-quarter points that helped put the Rams up 49-20 with just one quarter to play.
Smoot's offensive performance was punctuated by an almost flawless defensive effort in the second half by the Rams. Manassas Park was held to eight second-half points, hitting just 4-of-22 field-goal attempts.
"I'm very comfortable with how we're playing and where we are right now," Morgan said. "But we have a really tough test coming up this Thursday against George Mason."
The Rams travel to George Mason on Thursday for a showdown between district rivals that is enhanced by both teams' lofty state rankings. While Strasburg is ranked first in the Group A, the Mustangs aren't far behind, ranked fourth with a record of 13-2.
Although Jaclyn Ayers and Smoot dominated the scoring for Strasburg, Jennifer Jackson had a solid night with seven points.