By Greg Brill - email@example.com
BERRYVILLE - Posed the question, it did not take Clarke County's Vernon Mathews long to answer what was his favorite -- hitting two free throws for the lead or taking a charge 11 seconds later, sealing the Eagles' 63-59 non-district boys basketball win Monday night over Central.
"I think drawing a charge, definitely [felt better]," said Mathews, a senior forward who scored nine points and had five rebounds off the bench. "This week we've been putting a lot more emphasis on defense and I was just happy to be able to come up with a play like that late in the game."
This game, after all, was about Clarke County's huge turnaround from a lopsided loss in Woodstock last month to begin the season.
"It will definitely be a positive to go into practice on a high note coming off a win," said senior guard Sam Shiley, who led the Eagles with 18 points. "I mean, they beat us the first game of the year by about 20, so to come back and have about a 30-point swing since Dec. 4 is definitely a plus, and it gets us up."
Much of what the Eagles (6-5) did well in the rematch was due to their defense. Central had an 11-point lead by the 2:30 mark of the first period, but the Falcons found shots hard to come by for the rest of the first half.
"I wanted to use this as a measuring stick," Clarke County coach Brent Emmart said. "I wanted to see how much we improved from the fourth [of Dec.] to the 11th [of Jan.]. Minus the first four minutes and the last three minutes, we played pretty good."
Emmart liked just what he got from Mathews, who had been a starter for Clarke County's first nine games.
"Vernon is a senior captain and Ron [Anderson] took his starting role," Emmart said. "Vernon handled it well because he's a class act. He's very fundamentally sound on defense, and that charge he took late in the game was huge. It was a big swing and I was proud of him."
After its early surge, Central made two baskets total in the second period, including a 3-point heave to beat the buzzer by Kyle Willis. Clarke held a 34-27 lead at the half and would not be threatened seriously again until the game's final minutes, when the Falcons mounted a terrific comeback.
The Eagles did some pretty good things after Central opened a 15-4 lead following Michael Marston's drive. Clarke County answered with a 14-0 run that bridged two periods to take the lead for good. The run went to 22-1 after Shiley made a pull-up jumper in transition, sending the Eagles ahead by double-digits for the first time, at 26-16.
"It seemed like we were sitting on 16 forever," Central coach Roger Wilkins said. "Clarke played a very good game and played good defense. We knew coming in that they would be a quality team playing to their tradition."
The Eagles held Central (7-2) to eight first-half field goals and got points from seven players to take control. Anderson scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half and Shiley scored nine.
Clarke County was still ahead by seven after three periods and had a 6-0 run to take a 58-50 lead with 5:56 left. But following a timeout, Central stepped up its pressure and began to chip away to get back in the game.
The Falcons had their best spurt since the opening minutes, going on an 11-2 run to close to 58-56 of the Eagles. Aaron Heishman's basket with 1:09 left made it a two-point game, and Clarke County had to twice use timeouts when Central applied pressure.
"They're definitely a good team and they turned up the pressure on us," Mathews said. "That first time we played down there their defensive intensity was just like we saw in the fourth quarter [Monday]. We knew they weren't going to go down easy, so we just had to fight through that at the end."
Matt Sherfey came up with a steal with 58 seconds left and the Falcons had a chance to tie or move ahead with a 3-pointer. However, both Heishman and Sherfey missed shots and Clarke County won a held-possession with 34 seconds left after a tie-up.
Forced to foul, the Falcons put Mathews on the line. Having made 3-of-5 previous free throws, Mathews made both foul shots to send the lead to 60-56 with 22 seconds left.
Now down two possessions, the Falcons got the ball in the hands of Heishman, who drove the lane. That's where the senior met Mathews, who drew a player-control foul with 11 seconds left. Shiley then made two free throws a second later for a six-point lead to seal things.
The Eagles did a superb job to keep Heishman from beating them from the perimeter. Heishman got 11 of his 19 points from the foul line, and all four of his made field goals came inside the arc.
"We put a lot of focus on Aaron Heishman," Shiley said. "We know he is a good ballplayer, and we put Ron Anderson on him tonight and he did a good job. He got off a lot of shots, but whenever he did, we managed to stick a hand in his face. That's what we wanted to do."
The Eagles also got six points and a team-best nine rebounds from Jeremy Rhoads before he fouled out, and five points, eight rebounds, and five steals from Grant Shaw.
The Falcons got 15 points from Willis and 14 from Seth Bauserman. Marston struggled throughout with fouls and scored just eight.