Defense ignites Strasburg past Clarke

BERRYVILLE – Strasburg was struggling on offense, so the Rams let their defense lead the way on Saturday.

The Rams scored the last nine points of the game, fueled by their defense, to pull out a 48-41 Bull Run District win over Clarke County.

“[Strasburg] Coach [Matt Hiserman] told us to play good ‘D,’ because we haven’t practiced in so long. So, our offense is a little rusty,” Strasburg sophomore guard Tyler Fincham said. “We tried to get up into them, so they couldn’t just catch and square up. So they had to dribble, so they had to maybe panic a little bit. Then we got underneath of them and poked it out, and then just got layups in transition.”

Strasburg’s defense worked to perfection over the final three minutes of the game. The Rams trailed 41-39 until Mekhi Hendricks hit a jumper to tie it with 2:48 left.

The Eagles turned the ball over nine times in the fourth quarter, with many of them coming in the final minutes. Clarke County didn’t attempt a field goal in the last three minutes. Strasburg senior Noah St. Clair was the catalyst for the Rams on defense.

After a basket by Fincham to give the Rams a 43-41 lead with 1:51 left, St. Clair caused a turnover with a deflection and Fincham was able to pick up the loose ball.

Fincham hit a jumper with 1:31 left to give the Rams a 45-41 edge.

“The ball was rolling around, so I picked it up and started dribbling,” Fincham said. “I saw my teammate come down, but there were two defenders. So I just brought it back and hit a jump shot.”

“That was a big play,” St. Clair said. “That gave us a little cushion.”

St. Clair played a big part for the Rams on defense throughout the game. He defended Clarke County’s top scorer Sean McDonald and held him scoreless in the first half.

St. Clair, who usually guards the other team’s best player, said he’s been guarding mostly post players this season, and it was nice to be matched up with a guard again.

“It was nice to [guard a guard], because that’s more my thing,” St. Clair said. “I thought I did pretty good on him. I didn’t realize how good I was doing. I was just sitting there doing my thing, just playing defense.”

McDonald finished with six points, all of which came in the third quarter.

“You can’t say enough about what Noah St. Clair does defensively,” Hiserman said. “He just flat out can ‘D’ people up and reads people well and knows their tendencies. What he did on Sean [McDonald] is just tremendous for us. It helps take them out of the flow of what they’re trying to do, because they run things through Sean a lot.”

The Rams (19-4, 9-4 Bull Run) started off really slow. The Eagles (6-13, 5-8 Bull Run) had a 14-4 lead after the first quarter and eventually led 20-9 with 5:13 left in the first half.

Hiserman said Clarke County’s ability to switch defenses caused problems for the Rams on offense.

“The biggest issue we had offensively is we didn’t move,” Hiserman said. “We just basically stood, and it was our kids trying to recognize what they were doing [defensively] and not just playing. Once we started playing we were OK.”

The Rams closed the first half with a 12-0 run, led by two 3-pointers from junior Tyler Brill, for a 21-20 lead.

The two teams went back and forth throughout the third quarter.

Clarke County’s Justin Delaney laid down a thunderous dunk that brought the crowd to life and gave the Eagles a 35-34 lead with 7:06 left.

Strasburg immediately responded with a 3-pointer by Brill.

“That was big,” St. Clair said of Brill’s 3-pointer. “If you bounce back like that it’s excellent, because their crowd sits down and and doesn’t get as hyped as they were.”

The teams traded baskets until Clarke County’s Delaney and Brett McDonald scored on back-to-back possessions for a 41-39 lead with 4:53 left.

Delaney had 16 points, and Brett McDonald had 12 to lead Clarke County.

Brill led the Rams with 15 points. Fincham added 11 and Hendricks 10 for Strasburg.

The Rams have three games coming up this week, before the Bull Run District Tournament starts on Feb. 9. Even if the struggles on offense continue, the Rams’ defense could help them out a lot.

“I feel like we have a good chance to keep it going if we play our type game,” St. Clair said. “If we can get out there and keep playing defense and strap teams up, we’ll be all right.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com