By Jeff Nations
STANARDSVILLE -- Picture something imposing, daunting even ... something like, let's say, Mount Rushmore.
Now visualize a lone workman, dangling from a harness or balanced precariously on a flimsy scaffold, chipping, flake by flake, shaping perhaps Teddy Roosevelt's nostril or Lincoln's eyebrow.
Big task, right?
Matt Clutter was that workman, for all intents and purposes, in Strasburg High School's matchup against Clarke County in the Bull Run District boys basketball tournament semifinals played at William Monroe High School.
Clutter did what he could to chisel away a 15-point halftime deficit that threatened to balloon to even more unmanageable levels. His eight third-quarter points helped the Rams stay vaguely within striking distance, but never really threatening as Clarke County picked up a 68-54 victory that helped seal up a spot in next week's Region B tournament.
Strasburg (18-5) would have done the same with a victory. Instead, they have to sweat out a few possible upsets, starting with Thursday's other district tournament semifinal between No. 1 seed William Monroe and No. 4 Manassas Park. The Rams sidestepped that pitfall thanks to the Green Dragons, who downed Manassas Park 81-65 in the other semifinal.
That's still little consolation to Rams coach Millson French, whose team had one of its worst outings of the season at a critical time.
"We didn't even show up on the defensive end in the first half, and just kind of let them do whatever they wanted," French said. "And then offensively, they were doing a good job on us. We were missing scoring opportunities. They were just taking the ball out of our hands."
It started out well enough for the second-seeded Rams, who jumped out to a 6-0 lead by hitting their first three field-goal attempts.
Clutter's easy lay-in underneath the goal after Strasburg broke the Eagles' press put the Rams up 14-11, but the game took a dramatic turn from there.
"Our press hurt us in the first quarter," Clarke county coach Brent Emmart said. "That's how they got all their points. It allowed them to work with the lead most of the first quarter. We had to draw up out of our press and go with our half-court defense, just a match-up zone. It was very active and it kept them out of the paint and limited their opportunities."
The Eagles put together a 9-0 run to close out the first quarter with a 20-14 lead, but it was about to get much worse for the Rams.
"It was like men playing against boys out there," French said.
Settled into that match-up zone, third-seeded Clarke County (13-11) forced nine turnovers in the second quarter to boost its lead to 37-22 by halftime.
"Our zone has gotten better," Emmart said. "We haven't played much zone in the 19 years I've coached, but we went to more of a match-up, Syracuse zone -- man-to-man principles -- and it's really given our opponents a lot of problems, as long as we can keep people in front."
Down 46-29 after Sean McDonald's layup off yet another turnover, The Rams perked up when Clutter rattled in a 3-pointer. Clarke's Cody Taylor answered with back-to-back baskets, then Clutter struck again with another trey to pull his team back within 15.
Clarke County's relentless assault in the paint kept taking a toll, though, and the Eagles were back out front by 20 at 59-39 on McDonald's drive in the lane with 4:09 to go.
Strasburg whittled that deficit back down to 12 on Jonathan Kloosterman's basket with 1:47 to go, but the Eagles sank 5 of 8 free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
McDonald led a balanced attack with 19 points. Taylor chipped in 13, Josh Dulaney and Morgan Warfield had 12 apiece, and Davey Hardesty scored 10 for Clarke County.
"We attacked the basket and broke their defense down," Emmart said. "Most of our shots came within 10 feet of the basket."
Clutter had 15 points to lead the Rams, who struggled to generate much consistency on the offensive end.
"Whenever we drove, we either threw it way to hard off a guy like five feet in front of us or we just couldn't get it to the guy," Clutter said. "They'd step in front of it and knock it away."
Kloosterman added 12 points for Strasburg, and Tyler Hott finished with 10.
"We were like a step slow," French said. "I don't know if we're afraid of them, or what it is. But we don't play very well against them."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>