By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- Regina Downing is luckier than many high school basketball coaches -- when it comes to first-rate scoring options, she has some redundancy.
Downing, Clarke County's first-year girls basketball coach, has never quite trusted that luxury of relying too heavily on dangerous scorers Sydney Chrane and Anna Blue Catlett. Downing has seen one or the other taken away by opposing teams at times this season, and she's tried to prepare her squad for that eventuality. Even Downing didn't envision a scenario where both Chrane and Catlett would miss much of the game, but that's what happened when they were saddled with early foul trouble in Thursday's Bull Run District game against upset-minded Central.
With the scoring redundancy out the window, the Eagles had to call on the one fail-safe option they've enjoyed all season -- a sticky, havoc-causing defense. It came through, by the slimmest of margins, when Clarke County came up with one last defensive stop in the closing seconds to escape with a 61-60 victory.
"That was a tough one," Downing said. "We had to fight through some adversity. We got in some foul trouble with our aggressive play there that kind of cost us a little bit. But the kids hung in and fought, just hung in and fought and I'm so proud of them."
Clarke County (16-2, 13-2 Bull Run) appeared in good shape late in the fourth quarter when Central's top scoring threat, senior guard Katelyn Poston, fouled out with the game tied at 57-all with 1:16 to play. Three seconds later, Chrane picked up her fifth foul and Central's Rebecca Truban gave the Falcons a one-point lead with a made free throw.
The Eagles failed to convert on the other end and fouled Central's Sydney Plum, who calmly drained a pair of free throws to put her team up 57-54 with just 34 seconds to play.
Clarke's Hannah Ravenscroft made it a one-point game with two made free throws 14 seconds later, and the Falcons misfired on the offensive end after breaking through the Eagles' full-court press. Central's Mary Wakeman tried to make a defensive play as the Eagles brought the ball down the court, but instead was whistled for a foul against Catlett, who hit both free throws to put her team up by one with just 12 seconds to play.
Central again broke through a determined half-court trap to work the ball to Wakeman in the corner, but three Eagles converged on her. She still got off a contested shot as time expired, but couldn't connect.
Falcons coach Mallory Skarupa-Minster pointed to a tough night at the free-throw line, where her team hit just 24 of 43 attempts, with costing them down the stretch.
"They came up with one more stop," Skarupa-Minster said. "And it comes down to little things. I'm telling the girls at this point in the season when it comes down to it against good teams -- I mean, Clarke's not a joke. They're a solid, fundamentally sound team. All their girls can score, they're defensively sound. We've got to take care of the little things on our end. I mean, 19 missed free throws isn't going to cut it, not at this point."
Behind a huge night from Poston (30 points), Central (12-7, 10-6 Bull Run) looked primed to pluck the Eagles. Central trailed by just a point at 36-35 at halftime, and within just more than 30 seconds early in the third quarter both Chrane and Catlett picked up their fourth fouls. Both had to sit the rest of the quarter and a good portion of the fourth, but the Eagles hung tough. When Chrane came back with 6:22 to play, Clarke County trailed by just two at 50-48.
"That was our opportunity, and give credit to Clarke," Skarupa-Minster said. "They hung tough with their supporting cast and we weren't able to take advantage on the offensive end and get a lead at that point."
Downing gave her team a pep talk during a third-quarter timeout, reminding them of their preparation for losing Chrane and Catlett -- or one of them, at least. Chrane immediately made an impact, scoring nine of her team-high 27 points in the fourth before fouling out. Catlett had just two of her 13 in the fourth, but they were big ones for the Eagles.
"I told the kids, 'Hey, we've just got to stay focused. We're family here. And we're going to go down fighting,'" Downing said.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>