By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- For two quarters and part of another, Strasburg High School's boys basketball team compelled Warren County to try the Rams' style of half-court basketball.
The Wildcats didn't care for it. So when Warren County finally started to heat up behind the shooting of lanky guard Casey Stewart, the Wildcats were quick to shift the pace to their style by rolling out a zone press midway through the third quarter.
In just more than five minutes, that strategy turned a five-point deficit into a six-point lead as Warren County roared past the Rams for a 56-42 Bull Run District victory on Thursday night.
Held to just four points in the first half, Stewart helped ignite the Wildcats' rally with 14 third-quarter points. He finished with a game-high 23 points, including the opening salvo with his first 3-pointer at the 5:07 mark in the third quarter.
Warren County coach Vernon Mathews promptly called a time out and set his team up in the 1-3-1 zone press, and the points started rolling in for the Wildcats.
"We were just reaching there," Mathews said. "We started out the second half trying to increase the intensity. We went to full-court man, and they actually increased their lead a little bit. Then we decided to switch to the 1-3-1, and we were able to finally start getting some turnovers. Then our offense started feeding off our defense, and once we got on a roll we were all right."
Stewart twice tied the game with baskets in the lane, then drilled another 3-pointer to put Warren County (2-1, 1-0 Bull Run) up 32-29 with 1:29 left in the third quarter. Strasburg (1-2, 1-1 Bull Run) nearly pulled even when Matthew Clutter hit a runner in the lane on the Rams' next possession, but Stewart answered with another basket through the line and Kris Deal buried another 3-pointer to put the Wildcats up 37-31 at the end of the third quarter.
"That set it off," Warren County's Blake Steele said of Deal's trey. "Our intensity level got back up."
The Wildcats opened the fourth quarter on a 10-0 run that essentially closed out the victory. Stewart added four more points during that spurt before the Rams' Ryan Smoot finally answered with a bucket inside with 3:03 to play.
"We gave them easy buckets off turnovers and got their confidence going," Strasburg coach Matt Hiserman said. "In the first half we had them playing the style we needed to play. Keeping it a half-court game, we kept Stewart under control. You get a couple turnovers off the press and you get a couple easy buckets, as a shooter that gets you going. And he did, and then I think we got a little tired trying to chase him."
Stewart, a 6-4 senior transfer from cross-town rival Skyline, has scored in double digits in all three games for the Wildcats. Stewart hit 8 of 10 shots in the second half after making just 2 of 9 in the first two quarters.
"I got my rhythm, which really helped us out," Stewart said. "Once I got my rhythm, everybody else got their rhythm back and we went on a big run. That pretty much sealed it."
The Rams dictated the pace in the first half despite struggling with the Wildcats' quickness and length. Ryan Smoot had 13 of his team-high 20 points in the first two quarters as the Rams built a 21-17 halftime lead.
"He's smooth," Mathews said of Smoot. "Once he got the ball down low, he made a lot of his shots."
Hiserman thought it could have been even more if not for some missed shots and the play of the Wildcats' big man in the middle, the 6-5 Steele. Strasburg ran into even more trouble with him when center Trenton Davis went out with an injury.
"He was keeping them in it in the first half," Hiserman said. "We were able to take Stewart out of it on the offensive end, and [Steele] kept things alive with the offensive rebounds and putbacks."
Steele finished with a double-double, notching 16 points and 11 rebounds along with four blocks before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
"First half we came out and we weren't doing too hot," Steele said. "But at halftime we came in and we were talking, and we were only down by four. For us to only be down by four points playing like that, it was big."
Tyler Doman added 11 points for the Rams.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>