By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- Last summer, Stonewall Jackson girls basketball coach Jeff Burner talked with senior forward Heather Stout about being patient this season with a very young team. Stout is the only senior on a team that has seven freshman and three sophomores.
The Generals have overcome a slow start to the season, and Burner said Stout's patience and leadership has been big for the team. Stout showed her patience and leadership again on Wednesday night in a 47-38 win over Central in the Shenandoah District quarterfinals. Fourth-seeded Stonewall Jackson will play top-seeded Riverheads at Eastern Mennonite University on Friday at 7 p.m.
Stout gave some encouragement to sophomore guard Ashlie Clar at halftime, which paid off in the second half.
"She came in at halftime and she was upset because she was not getting her shot to fall," Stout said. "And I just said, 'Ashlie, your next shot is going in. I don't care how many you missed, the next shot is going in.'"
Clar's next shot did go in, the first of four 3-pointers she hit in the second half to give Stonewall Jackson the boost it needed.
In the first half, Stout, who finished with a game-high 20 points, scored the Generals' first 17 points of the contest. Due to the recent snows, both Central and Stonewall Jackson shared Senior Night and early in the game, it was two seniors dominating the scoring.
Central's Brea Hinegardner and Stout combined for the first 17 points of the game. Central guard Ashley Jernigan nailed a 3-pointer to give the Falcons an 11-9 lead after the first quarter. Stout continued her scoring barrage in the second quarter, scoring six straight to give the Generals a four-point lead.
"My teammates did a good job getting me the ball and I was able to get some good looks and knock 'em down," Stout said.
Stout was also able to get Hinegardner in foul trouble, as the Central senior picked up her third foul with 6:43 left in the first half. That helped give the Generals some momentum and they were able to take a 23-16 lead into halftime, including 19 points from Stout.
The Falcons switched to a junk defense in the second half, which kept Stout from getting the ball, and early in the third quarter the Falcons took advantage.
Central scored the first 10 points of the quarter, including five from sophomore Theresa Barela, to take a 26-23 lead with 4:17 left in the quarter. With Stout being slowed down offensively, the Generals needed someone else to step up and Cassie Conley and Clar responded.
Conley (10 points) hit two free throws and Clar (16 points) hit back-to-back treys to give Stonewall a 31-26 lead after three quarters.
"Cassie and Ashlie really stepped up for us," Burner said. "They made some plays and got some scoring for us when we needed it."
The two combined for 14 fourth-quarter points to help the Generals pull away for good. A Hinegardner basket cut the lead to 35-29 with 5:31 left, but Clar hit back-to-back 3-pointers and the Falcons could get no closer than eight the rest of the way.
The Generals most likely needed the win to keep their season alive and Clar said the team didn't want Stout's career to come to an end.
"That's one of things coach [Burner] told us before the game was that if you can't do for yourselves then do it for Heather," Clar said.
The Generals started off the season 0-7, but have now won six of their last 10 games. Stout said the biggest factor has been the young players coming along and improving with each game.
"I think Cassie and Ashlie have really stepped up this year," Stout said. "And then the younger girls have worked hard in practice every day. They've all got a lot better."
Central was led by Barela with 14 points, while Hinegardner had 12 and Jernigan had 11. Despite the loss, the Falcons may still be in next week's Region B, Division 2 tournament.
Central coach Stephanie Mathews said if her team does make it, they have to find a way to bounce back from the loss.
The Generals most likely need to beat Riverheads on Friday to secure a regional berth in the Region B, Division 1 tournament.
Stout closed out her home career at Stonewall Jackson by continuing the Generals' tradition of seniors kissing the horse on the logo at midcourt on Senior Night.
"Having watched all the other players do it and then being the one doing it was a little weird," Stout said. "I have mixed feelings. It's a little sad knowing it was the last game I played at home."