By Greg Brill - email@example.com
QUICKSBURG -- When Central upset Group A top-ranked Strasburg on Saturday, the Falcons fed off their ability to double-team Rams center Jenna Smoot and hold the senior to eight points.
The Falcons employed the same strategy when visiting another Shenandoah County rival, Stonewall Jackson, on Wednesday night. Facing another strong post in Heather Stout, Central tightened its defense around the 6-foot senior anytime she ventured down on the blocks.
Stout was limited to only three shots all night, and scored all eight of her points in the second period. But putting most of its attention on one player backfired for Central. Stonewall Jackson sophomore guard Ashlie Clar was willing to step up and unload from outside, scoring a career-best 24 points to lead the Generals to a 49-41 Shenandoah District girls basketball win.
"It felt good," said Clar, who topped her previous best of 20 points scored in a Generals' win Jan. 15 at Luray. "The shots were coming. I was really pumped up for the game."
From the start, Central (6-8, 1-3) made it obvious that it was not going to allow Stout to feed off lobs and score in close. Stout did not take a shot in the first period, but the Generals got points from four other players and took an 11-4 lead after one period.
Central got as close as 14-12 in the second period before Stonewall Jackson (4-10, 2-3) reeled off 11 straight points to take command. The run began with a layup by Clar off an assist from Stout, and ended with two free throws by Clar. Clar scored nine first-half points and the Generals led 27-13 at the break.
Stout did not take a shot in the second half, but the senior did not seem to mind her teammates taking the pressure off.
"I think [the double-team] opened things for other girls," Stout said. "It gave them confidence, which we really needed."
Central started strong with a pair of Brea Hinegardner [10 points] baskets, but Clar unloaded for a pair of 3-pointers and eight points in the third period to help Stonewall Jackson open its lead to 18 by the end of the quarter.
Clar, who made 7-of-16 shots (including a trio of 3-pointers) and 7-of-7 free throws, would add seven more points in the fourth, when her points were just as important when Central mounted a late comeback.
"[Clar] shot the ball really well," Central coach Stephanie Mathews said. "They've got a really good team. It's hard to guard all of them."
Stonewall Jackson was still coasting, opening a 21-point lead when Clar scored off a feed from Stout and was fouled. After Clar converted her free throw, the Generals had a 40-19 lead. But back came the Falcons, who put a true scare into Stonewall Jackson.
The Generals must have thought they were seeing history repeating itself. Stonewall Jackson had the lead at halftime in the first meeting in Woodstock on Dec. 30, only to fold in the second half and lose by double-digits.
Ashley Jernigan (10 points) scored eight points and Hinegardner and Teresa Barela (team-best 11 points) each scored four in the fourth quarter, and the Falcons went on a 20-4 run to close their deficit to 44-39 with 1:26 left.
"We played with intensity in the fourth quarter, but again, you can't wait until the fourth quarter, down  to play with intensity," Mathews said. "You have to play hard for 32 minutes, you can't wait until the second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter, down 10, down 15. You've got to play hard from the get-go if you want to beat good teams."
After sharing the ball well and playing hard-nosed defense for three periods, the Generals let their youth (Stout is the only senior) catch up with them.
"It's the type of situation that we don't know how to win and finish things off all the time yet," Stonewall Jackson coach Jeff Burner said. "And it's one of those things you have to learn to do."
Fortunately for Stonewall Jackson, Clar got fouled with 1:08 left after Central blew an opportunity to get closer by turning the ball over. Clar made both of her free throws, and the Generals made five foul shots late to pull away.
"We tried to slow the ball down but I guess [Central's] crowd was really [excited] and got them pumped up," said Clar, who scored just five points in the first game with Central. "And they kept making all their shots in the end. We just had to pull it out, and we did."
Cassie Conley joined Stout with eight points for Stonewall Jackson.