By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- Luray High School's boys basketball team is well-positioned to win a battle of attrition, if it comes to that.
Coach Jim Sanders regularly makes full use of his roster, especially in the early part of the season, to both evaluate and maximize the energy available. No surprise then that Sanders was substituting in bunches against Strasburg in Saturday night's Ram Hardwood Classic championship game.
There was also an added benefit on Saturday night -- Luray was better able to withstand a foul-filled evening and even take advantage of that atmosphere for a 65-54 victory.
Strasburg (4-4) got into foul trouble early, with practically its top six players all with two fouls each by halftime, and was forced to go deeper to the bench. That worked for awhile, actually, as the Rams managed to forge a 25-all halftime tie despite playing much of the first half without top frontcourt player Jonathan Kloosterman.
But in the third quarter, the Bulldogs gained some breathing room by knocking down a few timely 3-pointers. Josh Kling had a pair of treys in the first three minutes of the quarter to help Luray (2-5) build a lead, and Josh Good sank his first varsity 3-pointer with just two seconds left in the quarter off an inbounds play to push the lead to 42-36.
"In the second half, fortunately we made the plays," Sanders said. "We made some shots -- Josh [Kling] made a couple there, and then Josh Good made that one 3 at the end of the quarter, which was really huge."
The Rams hung around for awhile after that, cutting the lead back down to five on a pair of made free throws by Ryan Smoot with 6:19 to play, then later to six at 51-45 on Tyler Doman's two free throws with 3:38 to go. But Strasburg never could really gain much traction against Luray when it most needed a run to close the gap.
"They play extremely hard and they cover up a lot of gaps that are usually in zones because of how hard they play," Rams coach Matt Hiserman said. "They do a great job of getting their hands up, being active and getting tips on the ball, and it caused us problems all night long.
We weren't able to get the ball inside to places we thought we could get it, and we weren't knocking down shots on the perimeter. That allows them to sink a little more inside and take away guys like Jonathan [Kloosterman] and Ryan [Smoot]."
The championship capped a happy holiday tournament experience for the Bulldogs, who entered play winless in five tries and left with a modest two-game winning streak and a shiny championship trophy.
"We've been in all the games we lost, so I feel like winning these games really set the momentum and kind of proves that we are one of the more dominant teams and we can do this," Luray senior Malcolm Frye said.
Sanders said his team has done a solid job of keeping things in perspective during the tough start to the season.
"They've kept their composure," Sanders said. "They've been a little bit down at times, a little sulky, but to their credit they've kept on working."
Presumably, the Bulldogs worked on their free-throw shooting as well. Against Strasburg, Luray sank 36 of 53 free throws. Strasburg was even better at 26 of 33, but the shot deficit made all the difference on a night when the Rams couldn't find much offense elsewhere.
"It was a good ballgame," Hiserman said. "I thought we played hard and did a lot of things right. We just didn't finish some things on the offensive end, which is where we really got hurt."
Luray's Robert Van Wyck led all scorers with 17 points. Good added 12 and Kling had 10, while Frye finished with eight points and nine rebounds.
Ryan Smoot led Strasburg with 13 points, and Matt Clutter chipped in eight points.
Doman, Kloosterman, Frye, Good and Skyline's Trayquan Diamond were named to the all-tournament team.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>