By Jeremy Stafford - email@example.com
FALLS CHURCH -- Not three minutes into Strasburg's pregame warmups, a vicious sound issued from the far end of the court.
It was a loud, indecipherable chanting. A continuous roar, of sorts.
A few of the Rams glanced toward the bleachers, and though they couldn't see the source of the roar, they knew from whom it came.
It was the George Mason Mustangs, defending Group A champions, second-ranked team in Virginia: the lions of not only the Bull Run District but of the state as well, and the Rams heard their roar.
But Strasburg was not intimidated. They were nervous, Rams senior Jenna Smoot admitted, but never nervous.
"It was a big game for both sides," Smoot said. "I think both teams wanted to win really badly, and I think for both teams it was a measuring point for where they're at in the season right now, and what competition, as we get into the playoffs, will be like."
Even after their 71-58 loss to George Mason on Monday night, Strasburg was hardly intimidated. Not after the way the Rams surged back from a 25-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter. Not after the way they snatched turnover after turnover in that fourth quarter, and made basket after basket immediately following.
And perhaps that's why Strasburg (15-2, 5-1 Bull Run), not minutes removed from its first district blemish, wasn't too down afterward. Instead of dwelling on the immediate past, the Rams looked toward the not-too-distant future: Feb. 10, when George Mason (14-2, 4-0 Bull Run) travels to Strasburg for the second round of what the Rams now believe is a winnable fight.
After all, Strasburg is ranked third in the state, and that 13-point losing margin can be made up somewhere, somehow. Especially considering Monday night's game, for Strasburg, was one in which rebounds were a rarity and fouls were in abundance.
Sophomore point guard Corissa Alsberry picked up two quick fouls in the game's opening minutes, and so came out of the game before Strasburg could string any sort of a run together.
Of course, with the nerves of both teams dancing in anticipation, neither managed more than two field goals three minutes into the game. But not four minutes into the game, the Mustangs' nerves steadied, and they tore off on a 14-2 run to close the quarter.
That run, it turned out, was the Rams' undoing. Though George Mason went on a similar 13-0 run to start the final period, Strasburg answered with a string of scoring sprees of its own. Indeed, aside from that initial run, both teams played fairly evenly.
"We had some opportunities to score and make plays and we just didn't," Rams coach Joel Morgan said. "Then when the lead got up to 10 or 12 points, they start playing more relaxed and we start tightening up a little bit.
"When you get down against a good team, it's hard to get back."
Senior Jaclyn Ayers' 27 points was a game-high, and the 11 points she scored in the fourth quarter was second on the Rams to Smoot's 13. Smoot scored 21 in the loss.
But because of that fourth quarter, when Strasburg, if only for a few minutes, out-played and out-hustled the second best team in the state, Ayers and the Rams can look forward to Feb. 10, when the lion is forced to leave its den.
"It's only [a] 13 point [loss] and I think we battled pretty well tonight, so they're definitely beatable," Ayers said. "... It hurts, but we know from tonight what we have to do -- we have tapes, we'll go over the stuff, we'll get them next time."