By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- The season has started, but the tinkering continues for Central High School's girls basketball team.
Facing a Skyline squad they had handled easily once already this season, the Falcons seemed well on their way to another dominating win with a dominating first half.
But after hounding the Hawks with constant pressure on defense in the first two quarters, Central eased off and settled back into mostly a half-court game over the final two quarters on the way to a 59-40 victory.
After forcing 15 first-half turnovers, Central (3-0) totaled just eight more in the game.
"I wanted us to get back and work on our half-court defense because that was lacking," Falcons coach Mallory Skarupa said. "That wasn't up to where we expected to be as a team."
Skarupa might be tweaking issues for her team, but Hawks coach Jim Kenney is in full rebuild mode right now. That effort has been severely hampered by a slew of early-season injuries that have sidelined potentially three starters, including talented junior forward Shayne Clifton.
Clifton (hamstring) and Makala Craig (elbow) haven't played yet this season for Skyline (0-3), while Sarah Dodge (vertigo) has joined them on the inactive list.
Losing Clifton, who averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds in five games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury, has been especially damaging to the Hawks' scoring.
"Once we get Shayne back, and we should get Shayne back by the time we start playing games in January, I think we're going to get a lot better," Skyline coach Jim Kenney said.
The Falcons leaned on their top scorer, junior guard Katelyn Poston, to jump out to an early 13-4 lead in the first quarter. Central forced eight turnovers in that eight-minute stretch, and Poston tallied nine of her 25 points in that span.
Poston poured in 10 more points in the second quarter as the Falcons continued to pile up points off turnovers and Poston's long-range shooting (three 3-pointers in the game).
"K.P. is gonna do what she's gonna do," Skarupa said. "We're trying to get her a little bit more in the offense. It wasn't like her saying, 'I have to score.' It was within the offense."
Trailing 35-18 at the break, the Hawks' long bright spot on offense was junior Quinn Breeden. She scored 10 points in the first half, then came on in the third quarter to score 10 more as Skyline started to show signs of life.
"We've played them before, so we knew what to expect," said Breeden, who finished with a game-high 22 points. "We've just got to learn how to get into the game in the first half and not see what they do, then [go] off of it. We've already played them before, so there's really no excuse for that."
That first meeting, a 47-28 Central win on Nov. 28, wasn't nearly as competitive from the Hawks' standpoint.
"From the first game to the third game, we're getting better," Kenney said. "Now, we still have some things that we've got to fix. Our transition defense is not where it needs to be. We're still not consistently breaking the press like we should, but we did it much better tonight."
A late scoring burst boosted Skyline's Jenny Norman into double digits with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Central got a strong effort from freshman Meredith Phillips, who 14 points.
"She's been playing tough for us, just a couple little things," Skarupa said. "But she's coming along very nicely. She's very passionate and she's willing to work hard."
Central, with no one on the roster taller than 5-8, still managed to stay even with the Hawks in rebounding with 27 apiece. That's a number Skarupa will likely pay close attention to all season.
"Rebounding is going to be a big issue for us," Skarupa said. "We need to get everybody in there crashing the boards no matter what, put a body on somebody and move them out."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>