By Jeff Nations
On a night when host Strasburg was making every shot a challenge, William Monroe's Gary Morris still made it look easy.
The smooth-shooting senior guard sank a pair of pivotal jumpers early in the fourth quarter, then calmly drained four straight free throws to help the Green Dragons pull out a tough 61-56 Bull Run District victory on Tuesday night.
William Monroe (3-1, 1-0 Bull Run) was a perfect 8 for 8 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, effectively fending off the Rams' determined comeback.
"That's two games in a row -- we did the same thing against Charlottesville," Green Dragons coach Mike Maynard said. "We have three really good free-throw shooters. Fortunately, they were the ones who caught the ball."
Morris (game-high 22 points) connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put his team up 43-37 early in the fourth quarter, and teammate Jeff Early's offensive putback on William Monroe's next possession stretched that lead to eight points with 6:20 to play.
Strasburg (4-1, 0-1 Bull Run) promptly responded with a 6-0 run over the next minute and a half to pull within a basket. The Green Dragons stretched their lead back to six, but the Rams' Tommy Caison cut it back down to three with a 3-pointer with 3:48 to go. But after a timeout, Early victimized the Rams inside once more with a basket, and Markel Williams followed by banking in a pull-up jumper in the lane to stretch the Green Dragons' lead back to 53-46.
After Strasburg's Arkell Goring converted a steal into a layup with just less than two minutes to play, the Rams still trailed by five points and had to start fouling. Williams sank a pair of free throws, but Strasburg's Tyler Hott answered with another 3-pointer to keep the deficit at four points (55-51) with 39 seconds to play.
Morris then sank a pair of free throws, but the Rams' Jonathan Kloosterman responded with an offensive putback with a chance for more as he drew a foul. Kloosterman, who scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter, couldn't connect on the free throw that would have cut the deficit to three points.
"They kept making some big shots to stay in the game," Maynard said. "They banked in a 3, [Kloosterman] was an animal on the block and he got an and-one. They just kept hanging in the game."
Morris again sank a pair of free throws, but Caison came up with one last huge shot when he banked in a 3-pointer with 11 seconds to play. That pulled the Rams back to within three points at 59-56.
"I thought this was his best game, both defensively and offensively," Strasburg coach Millson French said of Caison, a sophomore guard. "He did a good job of running things, he took care of the basketball."
A quick foul sent William Monroe's Austin Batten to the free-throw line, and he sank both with 10 seconds to go. Caison (16 points) couldn't come up with another bomb, as his 3-point attempt from well beyond the arc was off the mark and the Green Dragons grabbed the rebound before running out the clock.
"We had a battle," Maynard said. "I mean, either team could've won. We made some big plays in the fourth quarter. Gary Morris made a couple big shots for us, we got a couple rebounds -- they got a tough team."
The Green Dragons' 32-22 rebounding edge proved telling in the long run, allowing Early (17 points, six rebounds) and Williams (13 points, seven rebounds) a few too many high-percentage shots in the paint.
"We didn't do as good a job on the boards as we needed to -- they got too many offensive rebounds, especially in the second half," French said. "We just didn't box out. I looked out there and there were just some mental lapses, where we didn't put a body on somebody and they're athletic enough where if they can get that, they're going to take it up there and put it in."
William Monroe raced out to an 8-0 lead to open the game, but the Rams rallied behind Caison and a boost from junior Arkell Goring off the bench. Goring had four points in a 9-2 run to end the first quarter as the Rams pulled back to within two points.
"He's really quick and he's hard to keep in front of," French said of Goring. "He was able to penetrate and create some things. That's always good."
The Rams kept up the pressure in the second quarter, forcing eight turnovers on the way to grabbing a 26-23 halftime lead.
Strasburg held that advantage until the Green Dragons' Keegan Woolford sank a 3-pointer with 4:07 left in the third that put his team ahead for good at 34-33.
Tyler Hott added 12 points and Goring finished with 10 for the Rams.
"I thought it was the most patient we've been all year," French said. "I thought we played really well defensively. I thought everybody was on the same page. We really played well as a team, as a unit. We've just got to take from that the importance of controlling the defensive boards."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>