By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg girls basketball coach Joel Morgan felt the Rams were just a few baskets away from being right there with visiting Buffalo Gap in the first round of the four-team Rams Tip-Off Tournament on Friday night. Unfortunately for the Rams, the shots just weren't falling.
Strasburg struggled from the field early and fell into an insurmountable deficit in an eventual 51-35 loss to the Bison. The Rams will play East Hardy in the consolation game today, with Buffalo Gap taking on Luray in the tournament championship.
The Rams (1-1) hit just 10 of 50 (20 percent) shots from the field in their loss on Friday, including a 1-for-11 effort in the first period as Buffalo Gap built an early 11-3 lead.
"I kept telling the kids, I said, 'If you make a shot ... if you can just gain a little momentum.' That's what's been a little tough for us coming off of last year and going into this year," Morgan said. "We're a better team. As long as these kids will bounce back and get back in here tomorrow night and just worry about the next play, the next possession, we'll keep getting better. But we've got to keep working and see if we can't see this thing through and become a better offensive team."
For all of Strasburg's struggles in the first period, the Rams still found themselves right in the game thanks in large part to Buffalo Gap's own offensive struggles.
The Bison (2-0) took an early 7-0 lead after sophomore Destiny Harper knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner two minutes into the game, but Buffalo Gap wouldn't hit another field goal until Harper hit another trey with one minute left in the quarter.
Buffalo Gap also turned the ball over seven times in the first period.
"We panicked in the first half on offense," Bison coach Crystal Hanger said. "We just talked to the girls about that, just calming down and getting the ball past the pressure."
Strasburg's lone field goal in the period came nearly five minutes into the game, when junior Emily Melnikoff stole a pass and found sophomore Cary Scott for a layup that cut Buffalo Gap's lead to 8-3.
The Bison extended their lead to 16-3 in the second quarter after another 3-pointer by Harper, but Strasburg used a 14-5 run to trim the deficit to four points late in the half.
Senior Mikala Alsberry started the run with a bucket on the low block, and a 3-pointer by Scott cut Buffalo Gap's lead to 19-10 and seemed to energize the Rams. Strasburg pulled within 21-17 following free throws by Kelsey Jenkins and Alsberry, but Bison sophomore Shelby Stenzel hit a jumper from the wing with nine seconds left in the second period to send Buffalo Gap into halftime with a 23-17 lead.
"We got a little bit of a run there in the second quarter and got ourselves back in the game after kind of a really rocky start. But I don't know. Our stats say that we shot 21 percent from the field. You've got to make a few more shots," Morgan said. "There are some execution things that we've got to do better. I'm not going to fault our kids. I thought we really worked hard. We just didn't make enough plays to be able to kind of close the gap a little bit and put a little more pressure on them."
The Bison put the game away in the third period as Harper erupted for 11 of Buffalo Gap's 15 points in the frame. Harper knocked down two 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the second half to extend Gap's lead to 29-17.
Strasburg briefly cut the lead back to six following a pair of free throws by Katie Dofermire, but the Bison ended the quarter on a 9-1 run to take a 38-24 lead into the final period.
The Rams went nearly eight minutes between the third and fourth quarters without a field goal before Dofermire ended the drought with a bucket in the paint that cut Gap's lead to 42-30 with 3:50 to play.
Harper led all scorers with 23 points and was 6 for 12 from beyond the 3-point arc. She also had five steals.
Alsberry led the Rams with 11 points and five rebounds, while Dofermire added 10 points for Strasburg.
Both teams committed 18 turnovers, and Buffalo Gap held a 35-28 rebounding edge.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org