Down to size
STRASBURG – Strasburg’s boys basketball team was concerned with Wilson Memorial’s height ahead of their matchup in the first round of the Region 2A East tournament on Tuesday night. But the Rams had a game plan, and they stuck to it.
Strasburg’s defense held tough against the Green Hornets’ interior size, and the Rams knocked down shots from the perimeter en route to a 54-47 win to advance to the regional quarterfinals for the second straight season. The Rams await the winner of Bruton and Amelia, who had their first-round game postponed Tuesday night due to weather.
“Coming into the game we knew they were bigger than us, but that can’t faze us,” Rams junior forward Tyler Brill said. “A lot of teams are bigger than us. We just stick to our defense and knock down shots on the offensive end.”
Brill, who knocked down four 3-pointers for Strasburg (21-6) in the win, was tasked with guarding Wilson Memorial’s 7-foot-1 center, Dean Shaner. The 5-foot-10 Brill held his own despite the tremendous size disadvantage, as he held Shaner to six points, all of which came in the first half. And he got help from the rest of Strasburg’s defense, which continually double-teamed Shaner and made things difficult for the Hornets (16-9) in the paint.
Rams coach Matt Hiserman said Strasburg executed exactly what it was trying to do on defense.
“We were trying to put a lot of pressure on their guards in the full court, and even back in the half court. Trying to really cause them some trouble and not let them make easy entry passes,” Hiserman said. “I thought for the most part we made them make long entry passes into the big kid. … I thought we did a really good job on him late in the second half and kind of bodied him, got good help, made him mishandle a couple balls.”
Strasburg trailed the Green Hornets 13-10 after the first quarter, but the Rams got a spark from Trevin Howard when he came off the bench to start the second period and immediately connected on a floater to pull Strasburg within one.
Four points by Howard and four Strasburg steals powered an 11-2 run for the Rams in the period, and the Rams outscored Wilson Memorial 16-6 in the second quarter to take a 26-19 lead into halftime.
The Hornets slowly made up ground in the third quarter. After a 3-pointer by Tyler Fincham gave Strasburg a 29-21 lead early in the period, Wilson Memorial used a 5-0 run to pull within three points with less than a minute remaining.
Brill helped the Rams salvage an otherwise forgettable offensive performance in the third quarter when he connected on a 3 from the corner with 25 seconds left. He followed that by hitting two free throws with a second remaining in the quarter to give Strasburg a 34-26 lead heading into the final frame.
“Coach said to shoot the ball. I knocked down a couple, missed some but I’ve just got to stay confident in my shot,” said Brill, who led all scorers with 15 points.
Wilson Memorial scored 13 combined points in the second and third periods and turned the ball over 13 times in the loss, a trend that coach Rodney Cullen said has plagued the Hornets all season.
“We’ve struggled to score all year at times,” Cullen said. “We weren’t hitting from the outside. They did a good job collapsing. We tried to get it inside some, but we just had a lot of turnovers and we have all year long. We just didn’t take care of the ball and we weren’t hitting outside shots. … I think that would’ve freed us up a little bit more inside but we just didn’t do a good job with that.”
The Rams took a 36-26 lead – their biggest of the night – when junior Jordan Stump hit an off-balance jumper near the free throw line early in the fourth quarter, but the Hornets rallied to cut the deficit to three points following buckets by Mack Cullen and John Leavell III and a traditional three-point play by Justin Leary (13 points, six rebounds).
Strasburg’s lead bounced between three and five points for 2½ minutes before Brill connected on his fourth 3 of the night with 1:45 left to play, giving the Rams a 44-38 lead.
“He doesn’t ever think his shot’s not going in, which is a good thing,” Hiserman said of Brill. “He’s a kid that shoots 40-some percent from 3-point range.”
The Rams made 15 of 19 free throw attempts in the fourth period to help hold off the Hornets. Mekhi Hendricks, who finished with 10 points for Strasburg, was a perfect 8 for 8 from the line in the fourth quarter.
Ryan Smoot finished with nine points and nine rebounds for Strasburg, while Noah St. Clair had six points, five rebounds and two steals for the Rams.
“It’s a huge win,” Smoot said. “A huge win for our team. A huge win for our program, back-to-back years with a win [in the regional tournament]. It’s pretty good. Obviously it’s one down. There’s more to go and we’re going to have to get back at it tomorrow.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com