Rams fall to Eagles in regional semifinals

ORANGE – Strasburg’s boys basketball team kept things tight for three quarters against Prince Edward County in the Region 2A East semifinals at Orange County High School Saturday evening. Then the Eagles made a defensive adjustment.

Prince Edward switched to a 1-2-2 zone early in the fourth period, which sparked a decisive run and powered the Eagles to a 53-42 win, ending the Rams’ season one win shy of their first state tournament berth since 2000.

“They changed to that 1-2-2 half-court trap and we just didn’t handle it,” Rams coach Matt Hiserman said. “We couldn’t get our kids organized in it. Called timeout and talked about it there, we just couldn’t organized in what we needed to get into. Turned it over a couple times, three or four times right there, and just gave them run-outs for layups.”

Strasburg (22-7), which uncharacteristically struggled to shoot the ball from the perimeter against the Eagles (24-3), cut Prince Edward’s lead to 37-35 early in the fourth period following a 3-pointer by senior Noah St. Clair, but the Eagles responded.

Prince Edward answered St. Clair’s with a bucket in the paint by senior Amonte Vaughan – who 13 of his game-high 17 points in the second half – and then settled into its zone defense after spending most of the game playing man-to-man. The Eagles then used a 14-1 run to take a 51-36 lead with two minutes remaining.

“They caught us off-guard and it kind of snowballed on us,” Strasburg senior forward Ryan Smoot said.

The Rams committed five turnovers during the Eagles’ run and never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.

“We just got a couple stops during that time,” Eagles coach James Scott said. “But they were very deliberate. That’s a good team. They move the ball well. We just got a couple of breaks on defense.”

Despite struggling to shoot the ball on Saturday, the Rams never trailed by more than eight points until the fourth period. Strasburg briefly led 9-7 late in the first quarter after Smoot’s driving layup before Prince Edward used a 10-0 run – fueled by a pair of traditional three-point plays by Teequan Banks and Delquan Bigelow – to take a 17-9 lead early in the second period.

Strasburg cut the Eagles’ lead to 21-19 later in the first half after a pair of buckets by Smoot and a stickback by junior Tyler Brill, but Eagles senior Dajur Mobley hit a 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the second quarter and Prince Edward closed the half with a 6-2 run to take a 27-21 lead into halftime.

The Rams were 0 for 8 from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half and hit 3 of 18 treys in the loss after hitting 10 3’s in their win over Bruton last Tuesday in the regional quarterfinals. Strasburg also turned the ball over 18 times on Saturday.

“Two big things we knew couldn’t happen, we couldn’t turn it over and we couldn’t miss a bunch of shots,” said Hiserman, whose team shot 36.6 percent (15 for 41) in the loss. “We really struggled from the perimeter from 3-point range.

“The depth perception here is a little bit different for kids, a little bit bigger gym. But we didn’t knock down shots and turned it over too many times.”

Strasburg pulled back within two points early in the second half following back-to-back buckets by Tyler Fincham and Brill, but Vaughan scored three straight times for the Eagles to give Prince Edward a 35-29 lead with 2:35 left in the third quarter.

The Rams cut the deficit to three points following Fincham’s 3 – the first of the game for Strasburg – but Vaughan scored his eighth point of the quarter to send Prince Edward into the fourth period with a 37-32 lead.

Strasburg got the physical style of play it was expecting from the Eagles on Saturday, and Hiserman said that physicality started to take its toll on the Rams as the game went on.

“I think it wore us down,” Hiserman said. “I think [point guard Mekhi Hendricks] got worn down a little bit. He did a good job early on when we attacked it. When they went to that zone trap I didn’t think we tried to attack it. I think we were too passive at the guards.”

Vaughan had eight rebounds to go with his 17 points, while Banks added 12 points for Prince Edward. Deonte Blanton had seven steals for the Eagles.

Fincham led Strasburg with 12 points, while Brill added 10 points and eight rebounds. Smoot finished with nine points and eight boards for the Rams, who saw their season come to a close with the loss.

“I think we had a good season,” Smoot said. “When you’re one of the last eight teams in the state it’s not the worst thing in the world. I think what is something to build on is we came here and competed. It wasn’t like we didn’t belong. For those guys coming back and the coaching staff, that’s got to be something they’re looking forward to.”

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