By Tommy Keeler Jr.
NOKESVILLE -- Emotions were running high, but Central's Katelyn Poston would have none of it.
As the Falcons came back to their bench with five seconds left and down by one point, Central freshman Tamra Scott was crying. Poston went over to Scott, looked her in the eye and gave her a pep talk.
"Tamra [Scott] started to get emotional, and I had to keep her in check a little bit," Poston said after the team's eventual 49-45 overtime win over John Marshall in Wednesday's 3A East regional semifinal.
John Marshall's Jasmine Carter had just scored on a putback, and was fouled by Rebecca Truban to give the Justices' a 41-40 lead. However, John Marshall coach Travis Richardson was given a technical for walking onto the floor in the ensuing celebration.
Poston then made sure Scott kept it together.
"I told her, I said, 'Baby, the game's not over yet,'" Poston said. "We knew we had those technicals, because the other team came out on the court. And I said I had your back."
After Carter made the free throw, Poston made good on her promise and calmly sank two free throws to tie the game and send it into overtime.
The win sends the Falcons into the Class 3A state semifinals, their first state berth since winning the Group A title in 1996.
John Marshall went up 45-42 in the extra period on a basket and a free throw by Naterria Luster with 2:16 left. However, Poston and her teammates weren't done delivering the drama.
Poston, who scored all seven of Central's points in the overtime, hit two free throws and then converted a steal and a layup with 1:49 left.
The two teams traded free throw misses, and the Justices once again had the ball trailing by a point. Once again, Poston delivered with a steal and she was fouled with 15 seconds left.
She converted both free throws to give the Falcons a 48-45 lead. John Marshall's Antoinette Pickett missed a 3-pointer, and Poston grabbed the rebound with 0.9 seconds left. Finally she was able to let out some emotion as she raised her hands and the Falcons began to celebrate.
"KP [Poston], with her composure, we know she's our rock," Central coach Mallory Skarupa said. "And she proved why she's our rock tonight."
Poston had 25 points, but she had plenty of help from her teammates.
The Falcons' defense held the Justices without a made basket in the first period. John Marshall rallied to take the lead in the second period, but senior Sydney Plum and Mary Wakeman keyed a 12-0 run to end the first half.
"The seniors, we knew that we had to carry the team, the other girls had never been in a big game position like this," Plum said. "Us seniors, it was our second [regional semifinal] game, we knew we had to keep them on our backs, and make sure they didn't get too over-emotional about it. And just keep playing."
The Falcons (19-8) withstood another John Marshall rally in the third period, and a Poston layup at the buzzer on a pass from sophomore Meredith Phillips gave Central a 28-27 lead after three quarters.
John Marshall was able to build a 37-33 lead with 2:22 left in the game, but seniors Truban, Wakeman and Plum made big plays for the Falcons.
Truban scored on an assist from Plum to cut the lead to 37-35 with 1:55 left. After a John Marshall basket, Wakeman drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one with 34 seconds left.
Wakeman said it felt good to hit the shot, especially since she felt like she had been struggling a little from the outside lately.
"Recently, I kind of felt like I've been letting my team down, because I have hit really big 3s in close games [in the past]," Wakeman said. "I would have never hit that without my teammates playing defense, getting the ball [and] passing it to me, rebounding it to me. I give everybody credit for that shot."
After a missed shot by John Marshall's Ze'Nya Butler, Plum was able to get free down the floor and hit a layup with 17 seconds left on a pass from Truban.
"I saw [the shot] going up and so I hung back a little bit," Plum said. "And then once I saw the ball coming at me, I knew it was just an easy play, just like we do in practice. Just take it up and kiss right off the board."
John Marshall was led by Marquisha Henderson with 11 points.
Poston had five rebounds and four steals, and Wakeman had eight points, four rebounds and four steals for the Falcons. Scott had eight points, eight rebounds and two assists, and Plum had six points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Truban added two points, six assists, seven rebounds and five steals.
Central will host Huguenot on Friday in the 3A East regional final. Win or lose, the Falcons will play in the Class 3A state semifinals next week against either Spotswood or Broadway at JMU.
"As a freshman, for me this is amazing," Scott said. "This is my team. It's my family. I would never trade anybody else on my team. I've never been in this position before, and it's just an amazing feeling.
"I'm so proud to be a Central Falcon."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com