WOODSTOCK – Something about playing Central’s girls basketball team brings out the best in Strasburg’s defense.
For the second time this season, the Rams put the clamps down on the Falcons on Thursday night, stifling Central en route to a 32-22 win that made Strasburg’s grip on third place in the Bull Run District a little bit tighter.
Thursday’s defensive performance topped what the Rams did against Central at home on Jan. 16, when Strasburg held the Falcons to what was, at the time, a season-low 24 points. To make Thursday’s victory sweeter for the Rams, it spoiled Central’s senior night.
Strasburg junior forward Jaden Alsberry said afterward that the rivalry factor triggers something a little extra for the Rams on the defensive end.
“Since it’s Central, it’s like more intensity, like we wanna play good defense, we wanna panic them and make them play faster so they turn the ball over more,” said Alsberry, who led the Rams with 12 points and six rebounds in the win. “I guess it’s just Central; it’s more fun to play better defense because you wanna be the team that does everything well.”
Strasburg (14-6, 4-4 Bull Run) made things miserable for the Falcons (9-11, 3-5), who have lost four straight games and five of their last six. The Rams, sticking to a half-court man-to-man defense anchored in the middle by their trio of 6-footers, held Central to a 20.9-percent mark from the field and blocked 13 shots while also forcing 12 turnovers in the win.
The Falcons at one point endured a field-goal drought that lasted 14 ½ minutes.
Central head coach Bryan Scott said his squad was far too patient on offense for his liking – in a sign of things to come, the Falcons passed the ball around the perimeter for the first minute and a half of the game before Maria Marston got a shooter’s bounce on a 3-pointer on the game’s first shot attempt.
That deliberate approach lasted most of the night, and Scott said Central didn’t look to score enough and was too hesitant to pass the ball to its cutters in its five-out motion offense. Scott’s counterpart, Darin Jenkins, was quite content with the Falcons’ willingness to slow the pace.
“Anytime a team wants to do that on us, I think we’ll take it,” said Jenkins, whose team has won three straight. “Just play good man-to-man defense and do the fundamentals and jump the passes and make sure you’re on the help line and in position to help. What we’ve got to watch out for (against an offense) like that is … when they’re patient like that on offense let’s make sure that we don’t have any mental breakdowns after playing defense for a minute and give up easy layups. I thought, for the most part, we were able to do that.
“I was proud of the effort. It was a real good effort. It’s not an easy game to play when they do that, and I thought we were able to maintain, take advantage of our good opportunities on the offensive end, and it worked out for us.”
Strasburg, which shot 38.9 percent in the win, was efficient enough on the offensive end – particularly inside the 3-point arc, where they made 12 of 25 field goal attempts – to capitalize on Central’s scoring lull.
Nyla Sperry’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first period gave the Rams the lead for good and began an 18-1 Strasburg run that lasted until the 1:48 mark of the third quarter. That’s when Marston finally halted Central’s lengthy dry spell from the field with a hook shot in the paint to cut the Rams’ lead to 24-11.
During the Falcons’ field-goal drought they missed 17 straight shots, six of which were blocked by the Strasburg trio of Alsberry (6-foot-3), Christyan Reid (6-3) and Daniella Henry (6-2). Reid finished the night with seven blocks to go along with 8 points and four rebounds, and Henry had four blocks, all in the second period.
“The reason why we got so many (blocks),” Jenkins said, “was we had our bigs on the help line and they were able to jump over and help on the cutters and anybody that was penetrating to the basket.”
Marston’s foul trouble in the first half compounded the issue for Central. The junior had scored 8 of her team’s 9 points before her third foul sent her to the bench with 7:07 left in the first half.
“At that minute she was our offense,” Scott said of Marston, who finished with 13 points and was the only Falcon with more than four. “When your leading scorer goes out with seven minutes left in the second period with three fouls, and nobody really kind of steps up to take on that offensive role, it hurts.”
After trailing 18-9 at halftime, Central never cut the deficit back to single-digits after Alsberry’s steal-turned-layup pushed the Rams’ lead to 11 to open the third period. In addition to making just 9 of 43 shots, Central was 3-for-10 from the free-throw line.
The Falcons, who have two regular-season games remaining against district bottom-dweller Rappahannock County and second-place Madison County, have fallen to fifth place in what has been a close Bull Run District race.
“It’s just frustrating right now,” Scott said. “This is the time you kind of want to be peaking at your game because it’s getting ready to hit tournament play. You might not do too good in the regular season, but when you get to the postseason you can still make some noise, but I don’t know if we can. We’re struggling right now.”