Rams expecting tall order against Wilson Memorial

Strasburg's Mekhi Hendricks shoots over Clarke County's Hunter Rogers during a boys basketball game on Feb. 6 in Strasburg. The Rams host Wilson Memorial in the first round of the Region 2A East tournament Tuesday night. Rich Cooley/Daily file

STRASBURG – Strasburg’s boys basketball players hadn’t seen much of Wilson Memorial outside of a few pieces of game film prior to Monday’s practice. But in that brief exposure to the Green Hornets – Strasburg’s first-round opponent in the Region 2A East tournament that begins on Tuesday – something caught the Rams’ attention.

“They’re big,” Rams sophomore guard Tyler Fincham said before pausing to ponder what else he’d gleaned from watching Wilson Memorial’s game film. “That’s pretty much it. They’re big.”

The Rams (20-6) figure to have a tall task ahead of them on Tuesday when they host the Hornets at 7 p.m. in Strasburg’s first home regional playoff game since the 1999-2000 season.

Wilson Memorial, the third seed out of Conference 36 coming off a 50-33 win over Riverheads on Friday night, features five players listed at 6-foot-4 or taller including 6-foot-5 senior Mack Cullen and 7-1 senior center Dean Shaner.

Rams coach Matt Hiserman expects to see plenty of Cullen — a second-team all-Shenandoah District selection — and Shaner alongside fellow seniors John Leavell III (6-4), Justin Leary (6-4) and Justin Kyle (6-8) on Tuesday.

“Obviously size is going to be an issue,” Hiserman said, “and we’re going to have to do some things in the post to try to offset their size. We’re going to try to do what we’ve had to do all year with people who have size, try to pick them up with a little extended full-court stuff and try to put some pressure on them with our guards, and take away some of the stuff they do, from letting them get into some half-court stuff. That’s going to be kind of the take of it. We’ve got to force them into more of an up-and-down game.”

Hiserman said he feels that the Rams, the second seed out of Conference 35, have an advantage over Wilson Memorial on the perimeter, where he hopes the shooting prowess of junior forward Tyler Brill (9.4 points per game) could create some mismatches for the Hornets’ defense.

Fincham, Strasburg’s leading scorer (10.6 points per game), and freshman point guard Mekhi Hendricks have proven to be dangerous beyond the 3-point arc for Strasburg. Senior forward Ryan Smoot, the Rams’ tallest player at 6-foot-2, has also shown the ability to knock down 3-pointers on occasion.

“They might be bigger than us but we’ve got some advantages on the other side of it that they’ve got to prepare for as well,” Hiserman said.

Wilson Memorial is 16-8 overall but began the season by losing four of its first nine games, a start that Hiserman partly attributed to the Hornets’ incomplete roster early in the season due to the school’s appearance in the Group 2A football state championship back in the fall.

“Obviously they’re a dangerous team,” Hiserman said. “They’re athletic. They’re senior-laden. About all of those kids that are playing for them are seniors. A lot of them have probably been involved in state football and their state baseball championship the year before that. They’ve got kids that have been in those kind of atmospheres and those kinds of games before.”

Strasburg’s basketball program has some playoff experience, as well. This season marks the third in a row that the Rams have reached the regional tournament. Last season, Strasburg won its first regional contest since 2000 before falling to Bruton in the second round of the tournament.

“I think just the mindset overall that our program is going to go the regional [tournament], that’s an expectation, not kind of a shock to everybody that you’re in the regional,” Smoot said. “Now we’re getting to host a game. We’re just trying to build the program back up, obviously, after a few down years. I think just the whole mindset overall that just making the regional tournament is not enough anymore.”

The Rams have been on a roll since a second-half surge sent them past rival Central on Feb. 4. Strasburg has won five of six games since then, the only loss coming to George Mason in the Bull Run District tournament championship. Hiserman likened the Rams’ current level of play to that which helped them win seven straight games through late December and mid-January.

Strasburg, coming off a 53-44 win over Stonewall Jackson last Thursday in the Conference 35 quarterfinals (the only round of the tournament to take place due to weather), is hoping the recent trend continues at home, where the Rams have lost only two times all season.

“Obviously we’re more comfortable,” Smoot said. “I know Wilson’s not very far, but it beats having to go on the road somewhere. We’re going to try to take advantage. Hopefully a lot of the community and our students will come out and support us and it will be a fun night.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com