By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- Motivational halftime speeches that turn defeat into victory are the things of legend in almost all sports, and on Wednesday in her team's Shenandoah District opener, Central girls basketball coach Stephanie Mathews must have given a good one.
"At halftime, coach Mathews really focused on telling us that the team that made its foul shots in the second half was going to win the game," Falcons center Rebecca Sigler said. "That really got our attention, and we tried to elevate our shooting from the line in the second half. That's what really got us the win tonight."
The game was marked by 47 fouls and 52 foul shots, and true to Mathews' words it was free-throw shooting that proved to be the difference in Central's 49-37 victory over Stonewall Jackson.
"I told them at halftime that the game was being called really tight," Mathews said. "Both teams were getting a lot of opportunities at the line, and whoever made those shots was going to win."
Central responded by hitting 9 of its 12 second-half opportunities at the line to completely turn the game around. Until the third quarter, the Generals had completely dominated play, leading the entire first half and pulling ahead by as many as nine points midway through the second quarter.
"We played really well in the first half," Stonewall coach Jeff Burner said, "not so well in the second half. We need to learn to play 32 minutes of basketball, and not have lapses like that during the game."
The turnaround began late in the second quarter with the General leading 24-15 with 3:14 left in the first half. The Falcons finished off those three minutes with a 9-1 run that narrowed the Generals' lead to 25-24 by halftime.
During that run, Central connected on both of its free-throw attempts and got a 3-pointer from Kasey McDonald.
"We really started slowly," Sigler said. "We were playing against a team that has beaten us in the past, and for me, I was playing against my best friend. That made things very interesting."
Sigler, despite drawing three first-half fouls, was the key to the Falcons staying within striking distance in the first half. The sophomore scored all of her team-high 13 points in the first two quarters of play.
It was the third quarter, however, that spelled doom for the Generals. Heeding Mathews' advice, the Falcons starting connecting offensively. Outscoring Stonewall 14-3 in the third period, Central entered the final eight minutes of play with a 38-28 lead.
The Falcons followed that with a near perfect 8-for-9 performance from the line in the final period to seal the win.
While the Falcons were responding to the need for accurate free-throw shooting, Stonewall headed in the opposite direction. The Generals managed to connect on just 13 of their 29 free-throw attempts and were 4-of-11 in the critical second half.
"We struggled at the line, but we also missed several easy layups, too," Burner said. "With a young team like the one we have, they have to learn to be mentally tough. We're working on that, and we'll try to get better as the season progresses."
Heather Stout led the Generals with 22 points, but was only 6-of-15 at the line. Bedsides Sigler, Taylor Pumphrey had a big night from behind the 3-point line, hitting two and adding a pair of free throws. She finished with 10 points.
Ashley Jernigan also responded at the line, hitting 7-of-10, including a perfect 4-for-4 in the final period, and scored seven points for the Falcons.M
"We still have a lot of work to do, but the girls are working hard and things are looking really good for us right now," Mathews said.