By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- For the second time in less than a week, Central's girls basketball team knocked off one of the top teams in the state.
Last Saturday it was Group A's top-ranked Strasburg, who fell to the Falcons 47-45. On Thursday night, it was Shenandoah District front-runner Riverheads who fell to the pesky Falcons, 62-49.
"I was pleased with the way we played as a team tonight," Falcons coach Stephanie Mathews said. "We really struggled last night against Stonewall Jackson and ended it with a loss. Tonight we put that behind us and did what we're supposed to do as a team."
What Central did was play tough, aggressive defense and make its fouls shot when they needed to. Both were huge factors in the outcome of the game.
In the opening quarter, the district-leading Gladiators dominated play, scoring the first eight points of the game and pulling ahead 18-7 by the end of the period. The only weakness Riverheads showed in the quarter was at the free-throw line. The Gladiators were able to connect on just three of their 13 attempts. That, in the end, was a major factor in their downfall.
Riverheads eventually led 22-7 early in the second quarter, but turnovers against the aggressive Falcons defense slowly but steadily turned the momentum of the game in Central's favor. The Gladiators committed 10 second-period turnovers and ended the game with 25. That gave Central the opportunity it needed to get back into the game.
Fouls also plagued Riverheads, and the Falcons used the foul line to chip away at the Gladiators' lead. Theresa Barela was the main beneficiary of Riverheads' nine second-quarter fouls, hitting 7-of-11 free-throw attempts in the period and finishing the night 10-of-13 from the line.
"I really practice hard on my free-throw shooting," Barela said. "I make most of my free throws in practice, so I'm pretty confident when I go to the line."
Thanks to Barela and her teammates, the Falcons had narrowed Riverheads' lead to 27-22 by halftime.
"We missed 12 free throws in the first half and that really hurt us," Gladiators coach Tim Morris said. "We had a chance to put the game out of reach and we just failed to do it. We also had several of our girls in foul trouble and that forced us to change the way we played."
Fouls were a problem for both teams, who combined for 75 free throws in the game. The Falcons shot 45, and the Gladiators had 30.
Riverheads missed their first four field-goal attempts of the second half, and that gave Central the opening it needed to take the lead. Kasey McDonald was the driving force in opening minutes of the third quarter for the Falcons, scoring all five of her points for the night in the first two minutes of the second half.
Her jumper with 6:03 left in the period tied the game at 31, and the Falcons rode that momentum to a 38-35 lead with just one quarter to play.
The final period was a battle from the line, and the Falcons connected on 12-of-19 attempts to seal the victory. Ashley Jernigan, who had missed her only free throw of the first half, connected on six of her next seven attempts to lead Central.
"This game proves that we can play with anyone," Jernigan said. "We just have to play the way we know how to, and play as a team. We knew that the game was going to be won or lost at the line. I missed my first one, so I was determined to get the rest of them."
Thanks to her performance at the line, Jernigan finished the game with a team-high 15 points, seven of them in the final period. Barela wasn't far behind with 14. Brea Hinegardner and Jensen Hoover also scored in double figure with 12 points each.
The Gladiators were led by Brittany Heizer who had 13 points, and Rebecca Grubb who had 12.