By Jeff Nations
QUICKSBURG -- The bench provided plenty of spark in Wednesday's boys basketball season-opening matchup between visiting Strasburg and Stonewall Jackson.
For the host Generals, junior Corey Polk came on and lit up the scoreboard for a game-high 22 points.
Strasburg got a lift of its own from the bench, from a player who shouldn't have been there in the first place. Saddled with early foul trouble, the Rams' Jonathan Kloosterman missed much of the first half. But when he got back on the floor in the third quarter, Kloosterman made up for lost time with 14 second-half points to lead Strasburg to a 64-55 victory.
Even with Kloosterman on the bench starting midway through the first quarter, Strasburg (1-0) appeared well on its way to a blowout victory. The Rams raced out to a 14-2 lead and held a 16-4 advantage by the end of the quarter as the Generals committed eight turnovers in the first eight minutes.
Polk proved to be a secret weapon, as the 6-foot-2, 247-pound forward entered the game with less than four minutes left in the first half and promptly started pouring in points. The junior tallied four field goals and was 3 for 3 at the free-throw line for 11 first-half points. A newcomer to the team, Polk is playing his first year of organized basketball.
"I just kind of did what felt right when the ball touched my hand," Polk said.
Stonewall Jackson coach Patrick Smoot said Polk will only get better this season.
"We knew that he was very raw and very talented, and if we could combine his street smarts -- he plays outdoors and in the gym a lot -- if we could combine that type of skill and get him to run the offense thoroughly and complete and move through all our inbounds and sidelines and presses, and all that -- then once he gets the ball, he can go back to his roots," Patrick Smoot said.
Polk's dazzling debut helped Stonewall Jackson (0-1) get back into the game.
But in Kloosterman, the Rams have their own menace in the paint. And in the third quarter, the 6-3 junior took control. His 10 points in the third quarter, including a 6 for 6 effort at the foul line, helped the Rams increase their lead from an 11-point halftime advantage to 49-36 by the end of the quarter.
"We try to get the ball in the post because good things happen, usually," Kloosterman said. "You can get a little kick-out for a nice shot, get some easy points. But you just can't force it in there like we did a couple times."
The Generals kept hanging around, even cutting the deficit to eight points on Colton Harlow's drive with 55 seconds to play. After Strasburg failed to score on its ensuing possession, Stonewall had a chance to further cut into that lead but turned the ball over on a charge and the Rams hit 3 of 4 foul shots over the final 28 seconds to lock up the win.
Strasburg coach Millson French thought it was an uneven performance by his team, not totally unexpected for a season opener.
"We've got guys that can shoot the ball, we've got post men who can play down in there, we've got good quickness," French said. "Right now we're not as cohesive as I want us to be. It's not all their fault because we've had five or six practices together, something like that. But we've got to learn to play together."
One huge plus for Strasburg came from sophomore Ryan Smoot, who outrebounded the rest of his teammates combined with 23 boards. Strasburg totaled 44 rebounds in all for a sizable edge against the Generals (27 rebounds).
"For a sophomore, he's a real intense player," French said of Ryan Smoot, who completed the double-double with 10 points. "He's tough."
Tyler Doman added 11 points, including three 3-pointers, and Kloosterman finished with a team-high 16 for Strasburg. The Rams had a chilly shooting night, hitting just 19 of 78 field-goal tries for 24.3 percent.
Harlow joined Polk in double digits with 11 points.
"I feel like we played very well," Polk said. "I think we have the talent to be a pretty darn good team and have a chance against anybody we go up against. We just have to keep our nose to the [grindstone] and keep on working."
Patrick Smoot said that dismal first quarter was just too much for the Generals to overcome, but he was encouraged by the final three periods.
"The kids did exactly what we've talked about -- what we've been missing -- and they fought," Smoot said. "When they got down, they battled back. They scrapped and did what they had to in order to give us a chance to be in the game."
-- Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at (540) 465-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org