Rams rally past Cougars in tourney

STRASBURG — Strasburg girls basketball coach Darin Jenkins told his players during a fourth-period timeout that even though they were down they had East Hardy right where they wanted them — and he was right.

The Rams overcame a double-digit fourth period deficit and rallied for a 45-41 victory in the semifinals of the Ram Hardwood Classic on Monday night. The Rams will play Buffalo Gap on Wednesday in the final at 6 p.m. Buffalo Gap beat Luray 67-41 in Monday’s other semifinal.

“I told them once we got to seven or eight (down), I could see it looked like some of East Hardy was playing a little conservative and wasn’t attacking like they were earlier in the game,” Jenkins said. “I told the girls in one of the timeouts I think we got them where we want them. We just got to keep battling.”

His players were definitely listening. The Rams trailed by as much as 15 points in the first half, They cut the lead to five early in the second half, but the Cougars stretched the lead back to 11 to start the final period.

Strasburg senior Kelsey Jenkins got things started for her team in the fourth period as she hit back-to-back shots, and Olivia Gochenour hit a jumper of her own to cut the lead to 37-32 with 6:34 left in the game.

“In the locker room (at halftime) we just said that it’s about who wants it more, and I think we came out and weren’t intimidated,” Kelsey Jenkins said. “We worked together and we moved the ball, and we started making smarter decisions with the ball. I think it just started to click and then we got on a roll.”

Once a couple shots fell the Rams were also able to use their full-court press to create turnovers, and began to pick the defensive intensity. They held the Cougars to only four points and one made basket in the fourth period.

East Hardy’s Julia Hahn scored to stretch the lead to 39-32 with 5:27 left, but the Rams kept chipping away at the lead.

Gochenour scored on back-to-back baskets to cut the lead to 39-36 with 3:06 left.

“She’s been struggling offensively, and she came in and hit a couple big shots,” Darin Jenkins said of Gochenour. “… It was a team effort and that’s what I told the girls after the game. It wasn’t just one person it was truly a team effort, and I was proud of them.

The Cougars (1-6) helped the Rams (3-6) out at the free-throw line, where they missed seven of their nine free-throw attempts. East Hardy’s Shannon Hahn made one free throw with 2:53 remaining to extend the lead to 40-36.

Strasburg senior Carey Scott then scored five straight points for the Rams. Scott got a steal and a layup. Then on the next possession she drilled a 3-pointer to give the Rams their first lead of the night, 41-40, with 1:22 left.

“It was going so fast and I just shot. And I was saying ‘it’s going in, it’s going in’ and then it just went in,” Scott said. “Then everybody was so excited. It was just amazing, it felt great.”

“Carey’s one of those girls — she’s just very competitive,” Darin Jenkins said of Scott. “I never have to worry about Carey being ready for the big moment. She’s always ready for the big moment, and I think right there was about as big as it could get.”

Kelsey Jenkins helped seal the win for the Rams as she made two free throws with 20 seconds left on an intentional foul, and then made a jumper six seconds later.

“I’ve been struggling with my free throws at the beginning of the season, but I went to practice and I worked hard,” Kelsey Jenkins said. “(Strasburg assistant track coach) Tommy (Simmons) helped me with them, and it was just all about concentration and focus.”

The Rams turned the ball over eight times in the first period, and only made one basket in the first seven minutes of the game. That helped give East Hardy a 16-3 lead with 1:57 left in the opening period. The Rams trailed by at least nine points the rest of the first half.

The Cougars were led by Shannon Hahn with 17 points.

Strasburg was led by Kelsey Jenkins with 21 points, and Scott with 10 points.

It will be the first time in at least four years that the Rams will be playing in the championship game of the tournament. Maybe more importantly, the comeback win could be a real boost to the team beyond their tournament.

“It’s a big, big confidence booster,” Scott said. “I think us coming back — it meant a lot to us — and that will give us a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.”

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