Rams get ugly win, secure regional berth

STRASBURG – Strasburg girls basketball coach Darin Jenkins can’t quite pin it down.

In Tuesday’s win over Warren County in the Rams’ regular season finale, Jenkins was mostly pleased with what he saw from his group. But Thursday night’s Conference 35 tournament quarterfinal game against visiting Madison County left Jenkins wanting to see a little more from the Rams.

With a berth in the Region 2A East tournament on the line Thursday night, No. 4 Strasburg found a way to top the fifth-seeded Mountaineers 29-19, earning a trip to top-seeded Central for Saturday night’s conference semifinal at 7 p.m. and locking up a regional spot in the process.

“We’re lucky. We’re very lucky,” Jenkins said. “I can’t quite figure it out, can’t put our finger on it. You know, we play over there at Warren County earlier this week and play decent. Come out here tonight, we know what’s at stake, we come out here and just can’t hit a shot, we can’t sit down and move our feet on defense. It’s just bad.”

Strasburg (10-12) struggled to make anything outside of the paint in the victory, as the Rams shot just 22.4 percent (11 for 49) from the field. But Madison County (2-21) was worse. The Mountaineers, playing without leading scorer Makayla Taylor, hit only 7 of 44 shots for a 15.9-percent mark.

Both teams combined to hit 7 of 48 shots in the first half as Strasburg held a slim 12-8 lead at halftime.

“Overall defensively I thought we played well,” Mountaineers coach Dwight Brill said. “The offensive end has been our struggle all year. It’s a byproduct of everything – investing in your game in the offseason, but being awfully young too. We’re awful young.”

The Rams finally began creating some distance in the second half as an 8-0 run gave them a 22-10 lead – their largest of the game – with 1:12 to play in the third quarter. Sophomore Olivia Gochenour started the run with a bucket in the paint on the period’s first possession, and two straight stickbacks by freshman Daniella Henry gave the Rams a 10-point lead before buckets by Haley Bischoff and Kelsey Jenkins pushed that lead to 12.

Darin Jenkins said his halftime speech included urging the Rams to get the 6-foot-1 Henry more involved in the offense down low to hopefully open up more shooting opportunities from the perimeter.

Henry had 4 points, six rebounds and three blocks in the third period.

“She stepped up for us in the third quarter,” Darin Jenkins said.

Madison County would slowly chip away at Strasburg’s 12-point lead as the Rams fell into a scoreless drought that spanned six minutes, 15 seconds between the third and fourth quarters.

The Mountaineers pulled within 22-16 with 3:42 to play before Strasburg junior Cortney McDonald ended the Rams’ scoreless streak by banking in a runner with 2:25 left.

A 3-pointer by Madison County’s Makenna Santinga – who led all scorers with 10 points – cut Strasburg’s lead back to six with 1:42 to play, but Carey Scott hit two free throws and Bischoff connected on a short baseline jumper with 1:05 left to put Strasburg up 29-19.

“We did not play well against them the last two times we played them,” said Darin Jenkins, whose team beat Madison by 29 in their first meeting only to lose by four on Feb. 2. “It’s not because we underestimate them. They’re a good, scrappy team. They’re getting better. … They just brought more intensity than we did tonight, just thank goodness we hit a couple more shots than they did.”

Kelsey Jenkins finished with 8 points, eight rebounds and three steals for Strasburg, while Bischoff added 5 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Scott had 7 points for the Rams, while Henry finished with nine rebounds.

Strasburg, which out-rebounded the Mountaineers 46-42, forced Madison into 25 turnovers, including 11 steals. Jenkins said he thought the Rams played “decent” on defense in the victory, but added that the offensive struggles likely affected Strasburg on both sides of the ball.

“It’s just when you constantly feel like you’re always playing defense and nothing’s happening on the other end it gets to you after a while,” he said. “You start putting your heads down, you start making mental mistakes and that happened to us a little bit tonight. I told them let’s let that one go, we got it. We’ve got two more games to go at least and let’s get ready for Central.”

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