By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Friday, initially, was quite ordinary for Jaclyn Ayers. She had a zesty helping of macaroni and cheese for lunch, hearty hamburgers for dinner -- Ayers loves hamburgers -- and a casual warm-up prior to a home game against Clarke County, which Strasburg won 66-35. Nothing too absurd.
And perhaps for that reason, because everything else about Friday was so ordinary, Ayers didn't notice that after one quarter she was a perfect 4-for-4 from both the floor and the free-throw line. After two quarters, she was still perfect.
After three quarters and eight total shots? Still perfect.
And midway through the fourth, Ayers tested fate. Oblivious to her shooting perfection, she attacked the basket with the ferocity of a girl with no idea she had something to lose.
As Ayers soared, her hip drew contact with an orange-clad shoulder. The ball went up, kissed glass, sank through. Perfect.
Ayers' ensuing free throw: Up. In. Perfect.
The senior finished 9-for-9 from the floor, 6-for-6 from the charity stripe and had a game-high 24 points.
"I didn't realize that until now," said Ayers, wide-eyed, astonished that she had such a performance in her. "Free throws I've been struggling with a lot lately, so I've been working on [those] at practice, and I concentrated a little bit more tonight."
Ayers also admitted that, because she was hampered with a back injury in Strasburg's earlier meeting with Clarke County, she played with something of an added intensity.
It was her final regular-season game against the Eagles, after all.
"I wanted to see what I could do against this team," she said.
Though it seems Friday night was all about Ayers, it was hardly the case. Ayers was opportunistic. She took advantage of an abundance of steals and open looks.
But the Rams (15-1, 5-0 Bull Run) created their open looks. All but one player scored for Strasburg, their passes were anything but errant, and the 66 points they collected is a season-high. Senior Jenna Smoot scored 14 points and Jennifer Jackson added five.
With just a handful of games remaining in Strasburg's regular season, two against defending state champion George Mason, this offensive eruption couldn't have come at a better time for the Rams.
"I think they know that we're getting down close to the postseason," Strasburg coach Joel Morgan said. "I think tonight we played well and that's what we're looking for: As you get down here to the end of the season, hopefully you'll be peaking at the right time."
And perhaps the Rams have their recent loss to the Central Falcons -- Strasburg's only loss of the season -- to thank for their recent blooming. Ayers admits that the invincibility she felt at 13-0 immediately dwindled to a healthy respect for any and all opponents at 13-1.
"I never had the doubt that we were gonna lose," Ayers said of her disposition before games. "And that Central game, I think that kind of snapped.
"We need to keep intense, we need to actually just [keep pushing] -- not back down or anything."
Unfortunately for the Eagles (9-9, 1-4 Bull Run), there's still some work to be done before they start hitting their stride. Clarke County was held scoreless in the first quarter, and only Amy Hagerdon, who had the Eagles' first six points of the game, scored in double digits (15). Shelby Brown scored seven points and Kasey Canterbury had five for the Eagles.
"We just didn't come out with the type of performance that we needed to play with a great Strasburg team," Clarke County coach Tim Lawrence said. "They were very sharp, handling the ball well and really being aggressive on the boards.
"They were just better than we were."