By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- Host Strasburg High School's boys basketball team earned another game in the Bull Run District tournament with a win on Monday night, but not before giving coach Matt Hiserman's lungs a nice workout.
The third-seeded Rams jumped out to a sizable first-quarter lead, gave it all away in the second quarter, regrouped to push ahead by a decent margin in the third quarter, gave most of it back again and finally slammed the door in the fourth quarter for a 47-39 victory over No. 6 seed Madison County.
The win puts Strasburg (16-7) in tonight's district semifinal game against Warren County at William Monroe High School. The upset-minded Mountaineers made sure it wasn't an easy spot to earn.
Hiserman suspected his team might not be sharp for Monday's first-round game in a tournament that has no bearing on the Rams' deeper postseason. Strasburg has already clinched a berth in the upcoming Class 2A East regional tournament, and is locked in as the No. 2 seed in next week's Conference 35 tournament. They'll face Madison County once again in that tournament.
"I'm trying to get kids to understand that when you get to the postseason and you get a year in a league like we have where everybody can beat everybody on a given night, you've got to come and be ready to play all the time," Hiserman said. "We're going to have to come and play Madison County again in the first round of the conference tournament. We're the two seed and they're the seven seed, and there's really not that much difference between us."
Strasburg looked every bit the higher seed in the early going against the Mountaineers, racing out to a 14-4 lead by the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was much different, as Madison County (10-13) forced five straight turnovers to spark a 13-0 run and grab a 19-18 lead with 2:04 left in the first half. Jonathan Kloosterman's lay-in with 11 seconds left snapped that run and gave the Rams a tenuous 20-19 lead at the break.
"We just lost our focus, and when we lost it they went down and made some shots and all of a sudden they started feeling good about themselves," Hiserman said. "They went on a 13-0 run. Then we come out in the third quarter and moved it back up to seven or eight, then kind of lose our focus again."
The Mountaineers grabbed the lead once more to open the second half on De'Ondre Twyman's offensive putback, then the Rams ripped off an 8-0 run capped by Ryan Smoot's three-point play with 4:20 left in the third quarter.
Like the previous two regular-season meetings -- a split, with each team winning on its home court -- points were hard to come by Monday night.
"Both teams are sound defensively, so that's kind of what you're going to get," Mountaineers coach Ben Breeden said. "Each game's been that way. I was proud of the way our guys played tonight. We're playing a lot of young guys, and I thought we did well."
Madison County used a 6-2 run to end the third quarter trailing only three at 34-31, but then Smoot took control. The junior forward finished a couple possessions with layups and was solid at the free-throw line, hitting 5 of 6, to finish the fourth quarter with 11 of his game-high 23 points. He also had seven rebounds.
"We've got a lot of guys that can score on this team," Smoot said. "We've got Matt [Clutter] and Tyler [Doman] on the perimeter who can really shoot, and Jonathan [Kloosterman] is really a horse inside. If they take them away, I do the best I can to hopefully make layups and make free throws. That's about all I can do."
James Graves' 3-pointer got the Mountaineers back to within three at 40-37 with 1:43 to play, but Madison County could get no closer as Smoot and Doman combined to hit 7 of 8 free throws the rest of the way.
"They really battled -- they're a really tough team," Smoot said. "We pulled one out again, which this time of year is all you can really ask for."
Matt Temple finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, and Graves had 10 points for the Mountaineers. Madison County has been impacted all year by the loss of leading scorer Bobby Ford, who is scheduled to undergo knee surgery today. Ford played just eight games before the injury.
"He's our best player, makes everybody around him better -- he's a shooter, ballhandler -- I mean, he does it all," Breeden said. "He's a big piece of our team, so it's hard to replace that."
Kloosterman had 12 points and seven rebounds, and Doman had 10 points for the Rams.
Hiserman hopes his team got the message to play with more urgency.
"These guys have got to realize that they're the hunted right now," Hiserman said. "We've set ourselves up as one of the team's that going to be hunted, and you've got to be willing to bring it every night."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>