STRASBURG — In a game that was back-and-forth throughout, some halftime tweaks gave Strasburg’s girls basketball team the decisive edge in its game against Luray on the first day of the Ram Hardwood Classic on Thursday.
With his team trailing by four at the break, Rams head coach Darin Jenkins chose to put 6-foot-2 senior Daniella Henry, normally one of the first players off the bench for the Rams, on the floor to start the third period. Henry, coming off a strong first half against the Bulldogs, had an even bigger second half on her way to scoring 16 points and pulling down 18 rebounds as Strasburg picked up a 54-49 win over Luray to set up a championship meeting with Page County on Saturday evening.
Henry had 10 points and 11 rebounds after halftime.
“I thought that put a lot of pressure on their defense and I thought we got some easy looks at (the basket),” Jenkins said of putting Henry in with the starters in the third period. “We missed a lot of easy looks, but I thought Daniella played a whale of a game. … I thought she was really the big difference-maker tonight for us.”
The Rams (7-1), winners of seven straight, trailed Luray 29-25 at halftime but saw Henry give them the lead for good when she scored 6 points during an 8-2 run to open the third quarter. Strasburg’s lead floated between 3 and 5 points for the rest of the period but reached as high as 8 points in the fourth after Nyla Sperry’s 3-pointer and Henry’s midrange jumper connected early in the fourth.
Luray (7-3) cut that lead to 47-44 with less than four minutes to play when Emilee Weakley (19 points, 13 rebounds) scored a driving basket, but a third-chance bucket by Strasburg’s Christyan Reid and Henry’s final field goal of the contest pushed the advantage back to 7 points with 1:35 to play.
The Rams led by no fewer than seven the rest of the way until Luray’s Averie Alger hit a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer.
“I told the girls at halftime, the difference is they’re playing like they know they can win, we’re playing like we’re hoping we can win,” Jenkins said. “I think in the second half we played a little differently. I thought we started believing in each other, believing in ourselves and we were able to come out on the good side.”
Luray never got into a comfortable rhythm from the perimeter on offense and made only 4 of 28 3-point attempts in the loss. Strasburg also dominated the boards, outrebounding the Bulldogs 45-31.
Jenkins said Strasburg’s size — in addition to Henry, Reid (16 points, nine rebounds) and Jaden Alsberry (10 points, five rebounds, six assists) stand at 6-foot-3 — often inhibits the Rams’ ability to play man defense, and they turned to a 2-3 zone in the second half against the Bulldogs.
“I think going to the 2-3 in the second half blocked them in a little bit, kept them out of the lane with their penetration,” Jenkins said. “They scored a lot of points in the first half by penetrating and getting us in foul trouble a little bit. (We focused on) keeping them out of the lane, making them shoot the ball on the perimeter and taking our chances, and it worked.”
Strasburg’s win sets up another meeting with Page County, a team that the Rams have already split two meetings with this season. The Panthers (9-2) reached the Ram Hardwood Classic by rolling past Skyline, 47-32, in the first game of the tournament.
The Hawks (3-5) looked like they were still on Christmas break in the loss. They didn’t score a point for the first 5 ½ minutes and shot only 20 percent from the field for the entire game. Senior point guard Rachel Sirbaugh, who scored 20 points, was the lone scoring threat for the Hawks, and head coach Jim Kenney said afterward that his team was outplayed in every facet.
“We weren’t here today,” he said. “I don’t know where we were, but we were definitely not mentally where we needed to be. And again, I gotta give it to Page; they played well. They played good defense. They keyed on Rachel; no one else stepped up.”
Despite its struggles, Skyline only trailed by four with two minutes left in the second period and went into halftime down 25-17. Page County, which celebrated senior Lauren Williams’ 1,000th career point in the win, quickly turned that lead into double-digits in the third period and led by as many as 17 points in the second half.
“Our offense is normally chipper,” Kenney said, “we’re moving, we’re cutting. Today for three quarters we just did a lot of standing around watching.”
Skyline will play Luray in the consolation round today.