By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- As the first half slipped under two minutes Thursday night, Stonewall Jackson guard Russell Hill pulled up just shy of the foul line and drained a jumper.
The Generals were jumping for joy, cutting Shenandoah District rival Central's lead to five points with the made basket.
Then came the whistle: One of Stonewall Jackson's players had held the ball a tad too long after it ended flight through the hoop, and the perceived delay resulted in a technical foul called against the Generals.
Central senior Seth Bauserman toed the line and knocked down both free throws following the technical. The pair of freebies seemed to kick-start the Falcons, as they went on an 8-0 run to send the lead to double-digits for the first time.
Central kept rolling right out of the locker room, opening the second half with 10 of the first 12 points, to go on to a 52-35 Shenandoah District boys basketball win.
"We started to run a little bit more and it started speeding them up, forcing turnovers and leading to easy baskets," Bauserman said. "We just tried to grind it out. We knew we weren't playing our best and we knew we had to go inside and get to the foul line."
Both teams had struggled to put any consistent offensive flow together for the better part of the first 14 minutes, but once Central got its crucial run going late in the first half, Stonewall Jackson coach Bill Simmons could feel the momentum switching to the visitors.
"When the technical happened, I think it unnerved us a little bit," Simmons said. "And when you put Central on the free throw line, those kids knock down their shots. Really, you've got to give those kids credit for that."
In leading 11 at the break, the Falcons (4-3, 2-0 Shenandoah) made 12-of-14 foul shots. Bauserman was 6-for-6 in the half and 10-for-12 overall on his way to a game-high 18 points.
Early on, the Falcons seemed content to bomb away from the perimeter. Central was just 1-for-10 from long range in the first half and some advice from coach Mickey Clinedinst to punch the ball more inside in the second half proved to be a better path for the Falcons to follow.
Still, it was what the Falcons did after the technical foul against the Generals that seemed to turn the tide a bit sooner.
The possession that followed Bauserman's two makes resulted in a basket by David Hoye off his drive. A turnover by Stonewall Jackson came next, followed by a transition basket by Sean Semones. Matt Sherfey then got to the line after another turnover -- Stonewall Jackson had 16 of its 26 turnovers before halftime -- and hit two free throws to complete the run and put Central up 25-12 with 41 seconds left.
The third quarter saw Bauserman in the right spot at the right time, dumping in six straight points during Central's strong start to the second half. Later, the first free throw of a two-shot foul hit by Sherfey was good, sending the lead to 19 by the 5:21 mark.
Central had a 21-point lead by the end of the period, holding the Generals (0-8, 0-3 Shenandoah) to three baskets in the period.
Just one game over .500 seven games into the season, Bauserman knows the Falcons will need to have more urgency as the new year begins.
"We're just trying to be more consistent," said Bauserman, who also grabbed seven rebounds and picked up three steals in the win. "We lost two games, against Warren [County] and Strasburg, we felt we should have won. I've basically told everyone we can't go back to that. We just have to get the next game."
To its credit, Stonewall Jackson displayed one of its best efforts over the last two years. Even though the Falcons still had many of their front-line players on the floor for much of the fourth quarter, the Generals got their offense in a groove and outscored Central by four in the period.
Hill buried a 3-pointer and scored on another jumper, giving him a team-best 14 points (along with a game-high four assists) for the game. Forward Carlos Saavedra went strong to the basket and twice scored off layups. Lamond Morrison showed a good touch from the outside, knocking down the Generals' second trey of the period.
A strong fourth quarter allowed the Generals to finish up with a season-best for points in a game.
"Learning to compete is one of our goals," Simmons said. "When you've had the struggles these kids have had [winless last season], just learning to compete is the first step. Last year, Central beat Stonewall 71-23. Now Central lost some scoring [from that team], but still, it's the same group of kids for us.
"It's one of those things where we're trying to build, and it's not going to happen overnight. We'll just keep working on it every single day."