By Tommy Keeler Jr.
Every team wants to play its best basketball when the playoffs roll around, but this season Central's girls basketball team has made it happen.
After a tough loss to Strasburg in the Bull Run District quarterfinals on Feb. 10, the Falcons regrouped and played two of their best games of the season last week.
Victories over John Champe and Loudoun Valley gave them the Conference 28 title. It also gave them a home game tonight at 6:30 p.m. against James Monroe in the 3A East Region quarterfinals.
"I feel like we've really been able to come together as a team, and we're making our free throws and everything's just clicking for us," Central senior Katelyn Poston said. "We're working together."
One of the biggest differences has been the defense. Central held John Champe to 50 points in an overtime win, most of which came in the fourth period. Then they held Loudoun Valley to only 25 percent shooting from the field, and only 32 points.
"Our defense is another thing that's picked up since playoffs started," Poston said. "Throughout the season that was kind of our weakest part of our game, and it's starting to become our strongest, which is a great feeling because you can't win games without defense."
Central coach Mallory Skarupa said she challenged the players to each take pride in their defense individually, and they did that last week.
The Falcons (17-8) have a good nucleus of experience and youth. Central made the regional semifinals two years ago and have several players from that squad on the team, and they also have three freshmen on the year's squad.
"I wouldn't want to spend my freshman year playing with anybody else. This is my team and I want to go far," Central freshman center Tamra Scott said. "Coming in as a freshman this is amazing. I've never been in this experience before. So, it's like I'm proud to be on this team. I'm proud to have these people on my team. It's just amazing."
The Yellow Jackets (9-9) also have plenty of playoff experience, as they advanced to the Group AA, Division 3 state quarterfinals two years ago with a young squad.
James Monroe, which plays in the Battlefield District, is led by seniors Danielle Bumbrey, Cara Lambert, Brittney Williams and leading scorer sophomore Monica Dit. All four made the All-Conference 27 team.
Having a home game could be a real advantage for the Falcons.
"It's great. We'll be able to have our home crowd, hopefully our student section, the Nest, will be able to come out and support us, which is big," Poston said. "I think that's definitely going to be a bonus for us."
The 17-win season is one of the best Central has had since winning the state title in 1996.
The Falcons are hoping to keep the magic going, and maybe earn their first state tournament berth since 1996.
Poston said right now the players aren't ready for the season to end.
"It's senior year and we don't want to leave the underclassmen as much as they don't want to leave us," Poston said. "So, we definitely want to go as far as we can, and make it further than we have in the past four years."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd