One win away

Strasburg's Ryan Smoot makes a move to the basket during a Jan. 30 home game against George Mason. The Rams face Prince Edward County tonight in the Group 2A East semifinals with a trip to next week's state tournament on the line. Game time is 7 p.m. at Orange County High School in Orange.. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG — With Strasburg’s players awake on their bus ride home Tuesday night, Rams boys basketball coach Matt Hiserman took the time to give his players a little something to talk about.

“We got on [I]-95 and I looked back there, and they were awake at that point and as we came up [I]-95 by the VCU exit — just kind of made mention to them and said, ‘Hey, there it is. You play one more game and you get lucky enough, this is where you’re going to be,'” Hiserman said on Wednesday afternoon. “And they kind of interacted a little bit for a while.”

Strasburg is one victory away from a Group 2A berth in next week’s state tournament held at VCU, starting Monday.

The Rams will play Prince Edward County on Thursday in the Region 2A East semifinals at Orange County High School with a state berth on the line. If the game is postponed Thursday, it will be held at the same place on Friday with either a 7 or 8 p.m. start time.

“Obviously, we’re really happy for our kids,” Hiserman said. “They’ve battled all year long. They’ve continued to get better. They’ve come together as a team more and more.”

Strasburg (22-6) defeated Bruton on Tuesday night in the regional quarters on the road, 46-44 on a buzzer-beater by Trevin Howard. Bruton was the Group 2A state finalist last year and knocked Strasburg out of the regionals a year ago.

The Rams will face By a similar-type squad in Prince Edward. The Eagles (23-3) are very athletic just like Bruton according to Hiserman, but they are a little stronger.

The Eagles are led by Teequan Banks, a 6-foot-2 post player who is averaging around 17 points and seven rebounds per game.

“He weighs around 230 pounds. He’s a real strong, athletic kid,” Hiserman said. “They kind of run everything through him.”

Amonte Vaughan is another key player for the Eagles. Hiserman said the 6-foot-2 forward/guard averages around 15 points per game. Guard Dajur Mobley is averaging around nine points per game for the Eagles, and is a real threat from 3-point range. Hiserman said he has hit 40 3-pointers this season, and is shooting around 35 percent from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Zarius Jones also comes off the bench and gives the Eagles a spark.

Prince Edward County rallied from a 12-point third period deficit to beat Page County on Tuesday.

“I think defensively they’re going be a lot more physical than what Bruton was,” Hiserman said. “Bruton got pretty physical with us [Tuesday] night, but I think they can be a lot more physical with you based on what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen on film.”

This is the first time the Rams have been in the regional semifinals since 2001, and Hiserman said it’s a very good thing for the program. If they advance to the state tournament, it will be their first state appearance since 2000. Strasburg went to the state semifinals in both 1999 and 2000, the only two times in school history.

Strasburg has had success in football, basketball and baseball over the last few years and Hiserman said that success in one sport helps lead to success in the others.

“I think it’s huge for us,” Hiserman said. “This is the third straight year we’ve been back to the regional tournament. Last year we got a win and got to the next level. This year we got two wins and now you’re a game away from getting back to the state playoffs. Our baseball players have experienced the state playoff aspect. For our basketball team to get to the state playoffs would just be a huge boost for the program, and for the kids going into the spring. I think it doesn’t just help our program, it helps all of our boys programs that those boys are involved in. They learn how to be winners.”

Much like against Bruton, the Rams will be considered underdogs by many throughout the state. Hiserman said they will probably be considered underdogs every game they play from there on out. Many of the teams left in the state tournament played at the Group AA level before the Virginia High School League reclassification last year, and most of those teams have been powerhouses at the Group AA level.

Hiserman said he thinks his players are fine with the underdog role.

“Everybody had Bruton tabbed to be in the final four in the region. Everybody’s got Prince Edward or Bruton tabbed to be in the championship game in the region,” Hiserman said. “So I think our kids kind of relish that underdog role and want to prove to people that can compete and play with teams at that level.”

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