By Tommy Keeler Jr.
Just two days after a highly emotional and intense regular season finale matchup, Strasburg and Central are ready to go at it again.
The Rams and Falcons will play each other tonight in the Bull Run District tournament quarterfinals at Strasburg at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday night, the Rams beat the Falcons, 68-61, in Strasburg coach Millson French's final regular season game. French is set to retire after this season, after 39 years, so this will be his last district tournament.
"I don't particularly like playing the same team again," French said. "But the bottom line is we've got to step up and play well again, because they're a pretty good basketball team. You've got to throw records out. Any time rivals play, anything can happen."
All four of tonight's games will be repeats of Tuesday's regular season finales. Top-seeded William Monroe hosts Rapphannock County. Third-seeded Clarke County hosts sixth-seeded Madison County, and fourth-seeded Manassas Park hosts fifth-seeded George Mason.
It will be the third meeting between second-seeded Strasburg and seventh-seeded Central, and both regular season games were close.
Central coach Mickey Clinedinst said it all comes down to execution.
"I think everybody knows each other's tendencies," Clinedinst said. "It comes down to just executing, and whoever executes the best will end up winning."
Central is 6-14, but they lost two games at the buzzer, and two in overtime this season. They lost three games by less than two points. Clinedinst said his team has had trouble pulling out the close games, and making the plays late in the game.
"Our kids have been playing well," Clinedinst said. "We just have some moments where we make some bad decisions, things like that. The kids have gotten better and hopefully when we get in that situation tomorrow night, we can make that hurdle and jump over it."
Strasburg started the season off 16-2, but has lost two of its last three games. One obstacle the Rams have to overcome is that point guard Tommy Caison is no longer with the team. Caison's absence has forced other players to have to step up.
"We certainly miss Tommy's quickness and his athleticism, and he's really great in the open court," French said. "But these guys have stepped up. Tyler Hott, he played point guard last year and even sometimes this year he would play point for us, so he's able to step right in. We really haven't missed a beat."
Strasburg is most likely already in the regional tournament, while Central will need to reach the final to have a chance to make regionals.
Clinedinst said he expects the boys tournament to be exciting, and full of surprises. Many of the teams split games during the regular season, and even though William Monroe is the favorite, there are many teams that could have a shot at winning the title.
The girls tournament should be just as interesting as the boys. Central, the fourth seed, hosts fifth-seeded William Monroe tonight at 7 p.m. Seventh-seeded Strasburg will play at second-seeded Madison County at 7 p.m. Top-seeded George Mason will host Rappahannock County, while third-seeded Clarke County hosts sixth-seeded Manassas Park.
The Falcons (13-7) swept the Dragons in the regular season, but it was quite a battle when the teams played last week. Central, which has only eight players, had several players go down with injuries, and were down to six players in the fourth quarter. The Falcons also trailed going into the fourth quarter, but rallied with 28 fourth-quarter points to pull out the win.
Central coach Mallory Skarupa said her team came together well, when they needed to.
"It was kind of like 'look ladies, we need to dig deep and get it done, or we go home against a team that we probably shouldn't lose to,'" Skarupa said. "So we need to do the same thing [tonight], get it done, dig deep. Leave it all on the court."
Skarupa said she thinks her team is playing their best basketball right now, including a 65-41 win over Strasburg on Monday night. She said they played well for 3 ½ quarters, and they need to carry that over into the district tournament.
"We've been playing well these last two weeks," Skarupa said. "We're playing much harder. We're playing much more as a team."
Strasburg (4-18) will have its hands full against the Mountaineers. The Rams lost 47-37 and 44-20 to Madison County in their two meetings.
The Rams have been solid most of the season on defense, but have struggled to score. They have played most of the teams close for at least a half, before the lack of offense catches up. The tournament will be one last chance for the Rams to turn things around, as they have to reach the final to make it to regionals.
Central is also in a win-or-go home situation tonight against the Dragons, and Skarupa said she's not ready for the season to end.
"I'm not ready to be done yet, and I know for sure that [lone senior] Allison [Bright] doesn't want to be done yet," Skarupa said. "She doesn't want to play her last game yet. We're going to have to get it done.
"If we play like we know how to play I think we should be fine."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org