Shut ’em down

Strasburg's Noah St. Clair drives against Clarke County on Feb. 6. St. Clair has given the Rams a huge lift with his defensive play this season. Rich Cooley/Daily file

STRASBURG — For Noah St. Clair, it’s all about the belly button.

The Strasburg senior guard loves to play defense, and he said the key is to follow the belly button.

“Watch the belly button and they can’t really go nowhere,” St. Clair said. “When they move, that belly button is going to turn. And if they try to cross you, you’re always there with the belly button. You’re always going to have the ball.”

St. Clair has mastered the art of playing defense and is a real defensive specialist for the Rams, usually guarding the opposing team’s best player.

The 5-foot-11 St. Clair said that defense has always come naturally to him, and probably started by playing against his older brother, Cody, since they were little.

“My brother would always try and handle it really good against me,” St. Clair said. “Just guarding him has always been like a big goal. Always going against somebody older and having the courage to guard him has helped a lot.”

Strasburg (20-6) will host Wilson Memorial on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the first round of the Region 2A East boys basketball tournament. Strasburg coach Matt Hiserman said St. Clair’s defense plays a big role in the team’s success.

“He prides himself in being the kid whose guarding the best player on the other team,” Hiserman said. “He’ll come in and ask you during the day do I have so and so tonight, being the best player on the team. He really wants that person. Having him is a very valuable weapon to have, when you’re playing man-to-man defense like we do.”

One of the things that helps St. Clair is watching film. He tries to watch film of opposing teams and look for tendencies of the players he’ll be matched up against.

Hiserman said St. Clair does a good job of not allowing himself to get screened, when teams are trying to set screens for players he is guarding. St. Clair said he takes real pride in being so strong on the defensive end and helping his team.

“It’s great if you get a big stop, your teammates get into it,” St. Clair said. “It gets the crowd going especially for us, because defense is one of our keys. When you stop somebody like that it gets the team going. It gives your team a big energy boost.”

Probably the highlight of St. Clair’s season this year came against Clarke County on Jan. 31 in a 48-41 victory.

St. Clair had a season-high eight steals in the game, but more importantly he held Clarke County’s top scorer Sean McDonald scoreless through the first three periods. McDonald finished with only six points in the game.

“The last coupe years he’s been a really tough threat,” St. Clair said of McDonald. “Holding him to six points is a really big deal. I think that really helped us that game, just keeping him down and not letting him get started.”

St. Clair started almost every game last season for the Rams, who advanced to the regional quarterfinals. The highlight of his season may not have been for a defensive performance.

In a 36-35 victory over East Rockingham in the first round of regionals last year, St. Clair had six first-half points to give the Rams a boost.

“Coming out and hitting those first two shots and after that I was feeling in that game and I just kept releasing it,” St. Clair said. “It felt great just to be able to get out there and be able to hit some shots for the team.”

Hiserman said St. Clair tends to rush too much on his shots, but he continues to work to get better, and he can always use his speed to attack the basket and get a layup if needed.

This season started out slowly for St. Clair, who played football for the first time since 8th grade and suffered an injury towards the end of the season. St. Clair said he had a leg contusion, which hampered him at the start of basketball season.

The Rams used him off the bench in a limited fashion at the start of the season.

“I had to a lot of therapy try to work on yourself to get better,” St. Clair said. “It’s hard because you see them out here practicing and not being ale to be out there. It was tough.”

Hiserman said St. Clair’s been a good leader for the team, trying to work with some of the younger players and helping them out, especially sophomore Cody Price.

Price is one of the other top defenders on the team, and St. Clair has taken him under his wing to help him become better. St. Clair missed a few games out sick, and Price has helped fill the void whenever St. Clair can’t be out on the floor.

“With me being sick the last couple weeks I told him, ‘You’ve got to step it up. We need you. You’re our other best defensive guy. You’ve got to guard their best player,'” St. Clair said of Price. “I was like, ‘Keep playing,’ just helping him out a lot. He’s getting a lot more minutes.”

St. Clair has played in plenty of big games throughout his career — from football playoff games to the Group 2A state final in baseball to regional basketball contests.

Now that his basketball career is winding down, St. Clair is hoping the Rams can make a run in regional play. The Rams have won 20 games for the first time since 2000, and will host a regional game on Tuesday for the first time since 2000.

“That’s huge to do something that we haven’t did in 15-plus. It’s a big deal,” St. Clair said. “I think it’s going to be tremendous, being able to come out here and being able to play another home game, especially for your senior year. Having another home game is a pretty big deal.”

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