By Jeff Nations
Millson French had little use for his scowl on Thursday night, at least for a half.
French's Strasburg Rams fairly controlled the action against visiting Central through the first two quarters of their Bull Run District boys basketball tournament quarterfinals.
But as the Rams let what had been a 17-point lead dwindle to five in the fourth quarter, French had to break out the frown. Whether that did the trick or it was just a matter of Central cooling off from a brief hot shooting streak, the Rams regrouped and steadily built the lead back up for a 61-45 win.
"In our defense ... this is not an excuse, but this is our third game in four days," French said. "I was really concerned as to whether we'd have any legs or have any energy to even play at all, so I thought we really gutted it out and did some nice things."
Strasburg (18-4) likely locked up a Region B tournament berth with the victory, and made it a clean sweep of the rival Falcons by beating them for the third time this season -- and the second time in three days.
French's worst fears seemed unrealized in that opening quarter, as the Rams piled up 20 first-quarter points to grab a 10-point lead.
"We didn't get off to a good start, that was critical," Central coach Mickey Clinedinst said. "They got 20 and we got 10, so they ended up having a 10-point cushion. Then we didn't do anything to help our cause in the second quarter by scoring five, but they didn't either."
True enough, both teams went ice-cold in the second period. Strasburg was just 1 of 11 from the field, but Central was even worse at 1 for 13 as the Rams actually increased their lead to 11 at 26-15 by halftime.
Strasburg built on that lead in the third quarter, pushing the advantage to 39-22 on Jonathan Kloosterman's offensive putback with 4:06 to go in the quarter. Kloosterman finished the night with a double-double, tallying 16 points and 11 rebounds.
But after that Kloosterman bucket, the Falcons started to heat up and finished the quarter on a 12-3 run. Hayden Bauserman provided the capper with a ridiculous buzzer-beating 3-pointer, as he was perhaps two or three steps past the half-court line on the heave.
"You can't really practice that, but I did tell my teammate to get it back to me in that situation because I have hit a couple in my career," Bauserman said. "I wanted to see if I could do it again, and I did. It was a boost. It didn't do what we needed it to in the end, but we got on a run after it."
Bauserman (team-high 15 points) stayed hot to open the fourth with another 3-pointer that cut the lead to 42-37. But after trading baskets, the Rams came through with a crucial scoring burst. Tyler Hott buried a 3-pointer, later sank a free throw, and Tyler Doman drilled a pull-up jumper to help the Rams surge back to a 50-39 lead. That allowed Strasburg to run an effective four-corners delay that forced fouls and ran out the clock.
"We were slacking on offense," Kloosterman said. "We started to do our own thing. We had to start playing like a team again and build our lead back up."
"They've got a good team," Clinedinst said. "We just didn't play well enough or execute well enough, and they did a really good job on our best player, Travis [Cooper]."
Cooper, Central's leading scorer this season, had just four points.
"I thought Ryan Smoot did a great job on the Cooper kid, pretty much took him out," French said. "That was a big key for us. He did a great job -- very disciplined, stayed on his feet, did the things you've got to do. Of course he was getting help. He wasn't doing that by himself."
Brandon Ritter just missed a double-double for Central with 11 points and nine rebounds.
For the Rams, Hott had 14 points, Arkell Goring added 12 and Doman finished with nine. Strasburg advances to next Wednesday's district semifinals at William Monroe. The second-seeded Rams will face No. 3 Clarke County in a 6 p.m. game.
The season is over for Central, but the Falcons didn't go without a fight.
"That's a physical team that we played tonight, and they're really well-coached," Bauserman said. "The offense they run is really hard to guard, the flex set. They're a good team and to compete with them you have to have an inside game and you have to hit a lot of shots because they're going to score and they're going to rebound. We gave up too many second-chance points tonight and we gave them too many second-chance points on Tuesday."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>