By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- Mike Maynard might have been clutching that scorebook a little more tightly than normal on the bus ride back to Stanardville on Friday night.
If so, Maynard had good reason -- there was a 'W' marked off in that book, and it wasn't easy to come by for his William Monroe squad against host Central. The Bull Run District-leading Dragons never did ignite in their customary fashion, instead grinding out a 46-42 victory over the upset-minded Falcons.
"We never really got in a rhythm," Maynard said. "Central played really well tonight, had a good defensive game-plan and did a great job. Not taking anything away from them, but we've got to play a lot better than that if we want to continue our season."
Central (9-13, 6-10 Bull Run) didn't do much offensively, either, with another cold shooting night. But in the fourth quarter, the Falcons made the Dragons sweat by trimming an eight-point deficit to start the quarter to three at 39-36 on Travis Cooper's two made free throws with 5:07 to play.
With William Monroe center Jeffrey Early saddled with four fouls and off the floor early in the quarter, the Dragons milked time off the clock to maintain that lead. It worked, as the Falcons couldn't trim any more points off the deficit before Early came back with about five minutes left in the game. His two made free throws, followed by two more by Austin Batten, helped the Dragons push their lead back to 43-36 with 54 seconds to play.
The Falcons couldn't convert on the other end, and from then on had to foul. William Monroe (16-5, 15-1 Bull Run) made enough of them down the stretch to maintain at least a two-possession lead the rest of the way.
Central coach Brandon Shields would rather have the win on the team's Senior Night, but this loss was perhaps the next best thing for the Falcons. After all, Central lost to William Monroe by 36 points (77-41) just a month ago.
"I think we did a great job of executing our game plan, which was really trying to make them uncomfortable and trying to get them to kick it out, and then trying to recover on their shooters," Shields said. "I thought we did a pretty good job, for the most part."
Central's Zach Herbaugh delivered a huge night, notching a double-double with 10 points and 18 rebounds as he went toe-to-toe with Early in the post. Early finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Maynard said his team has been battling the flu and was coming off a tough game Thursday night against rival Madison County, which left them with no legs for the Falcons.
"We didn't play very well," Maynard said. "We got in some major foul trouble, and we know better than to play with our hands. We've got to keep our hands off people."
The Dragons darted out to an 11-2 lead to open the game, but never could shake Central. Late in the third quarter, their lead was just five before Batten drilled a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. He finished with a game-high 17 points, including three 3-pointers.
"He's had a good year for us," Maynard said. "He's been shooting the ball very well here lately. Everybody keys in on my big man in the middle and he didn't have a very good game tonight, but Austin picked up the pace for us and hit some big shots."
Ricky Neff and Travis Cooper had 11 points apiece to pace Central, which hit 19 of 26 free throws but only managed 10 for 59 (16.9 percent) on field-goal attempts.
"One or two of those go down, the game's a lot different," Shields said. "And they're capable guys -- we caught the ball in rhythm, I thought we took great shots. It just didn't go in."
With the regular season over and a first-round road matchup against Warren County set for Monday, Shields is optimistic his team is starting to click.
"We just have to execute to the next level of finishing shots, and we'd have a couple more wins right now," Shields said. "I've been saying all year I want to be playing well in February, and I think we are playing the best we've played all season right now."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>