By Brad Fauber
NOKESVILLE -- The current group of seniors on Central's girls basketball team have shared plenty of success on the basketball court since their seventh-grade season, when they capped an undefeated season with an NVJL tournament title.
Those four current seniors -- Katelyn Poston, Rebecca Truban, Mary Wakeman and Sydney Plum -- went on to help the Falcons' varsity team win its first regional title in 15 years during their sophomore seasons two years ago.
And on Wednesday night, that group carried Central to its first state tournament berth since the Falcons' state championship season in 1996-97. Central's quartet of seniors rose to the challenge in the second half of Wednesday's 3A East regional tournament semifinal against John Marshall, as the Falcons escaped with a wild 49-45 overtime victory.
"We're not ready for our season to be done, so going out there, we just encouraged one another," Poston said. "We said a prayer there between the fourth quarter and overtime. We just wanted to make sure we came through for our team, and for ourselves, because we wanted to be able to go to states."
Central has preached the concept of teamwork throughout this postseason, and the Falcons have gotten tremendous contributions up and down its lineup late in the season. But on Wednesday, the seniors stepped up when it mattered most.
Led by Central's all-time leading scorer in Poston -- who scored 18 of her game-high 25 points in the second half and overtime -- the Falcons' seniors combined to score 27 of Central's final 29 points. The seniors played a direct hand in nearly every game-changing play for the Falcons down the stretch.
"We talked about just leaving everything out on the court," Falcons coach Mallory Skarupa said. "I texted them last night and said, 'This is it.' We've been talking the last couple weeks about their legacy. We've had a great season, but what are you going to be remembered for? What are you going to leave this school with? What's going to be your legacy? They've really taken that to heart. They don't want to stop playing. We knew if they want it, then it's going to be there for the taking."
Each senior's impact was felt throughout the game on Wednesday evening, but at no point was the quartet's presence more critical than in the fourth quarter.
With Central trailing 35-31 with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter, Poston swiped a steal and scored a layup on the other end to pull the Falcons within two points of John Marshall. Following another bucket by the Justices, Truban -- who tallied five steals and seven rebounds in the win -- scored her only bucket of the night off an assist by Plum with 1:55 to play to cut the deficit back to two.
John Marshall regained a four-point lead on a bucket by Ze'Nya Butler with 1:10 to play, but Wakeman (eight points) delivered a huge 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 35 seconds left to cut it to 39-38. Plum followed suit with a fast-break layup off a pass from Truban to give Central a one-point lead with 17 seconds to play, and it was Poston who calmly knocked down two free throws with 5.9 seconds remaining to tie the game at 42-all and force overtime.
Poston proceeded to score all of Central's seven points in overtime to send the Falcons to Friday's regional final.
"It was just an overwhelming feeling," said Truban, who fouled out with five seconds to play in regulation. "You don't know what to think. All I could do just pray and hope that we could come through in the end. We're such a good team and we play hard together. Right when we come together we're able to succeed. I just like to emphasize teamwork because that's the main thing that works."
Plum echoed the importance of the team's unity this postseason, which has been fueled by the seniors' chemistry on the court.
"It's definitely a great feeling because we're finally coming together as a family and everyone is coming together as one," said Plum, who finished with six points and five rebounds. "As we always say, we're finally flying as one.
"It's just a big family, and it's not about 'I' anymore. It's about 'we,' and it was a big team win."
Central's seniors, who earlier this postseason helped lead the Falcons to a Conference 28 tournament championship, are just happy to have the opportunity to continue to share the court with one another for at least two more games.
"Being able to achieve something so great like states, or even being in the regional championship or the conference championship, with four girls who have been my best friends and by my side since I was six is just like the perfect way to end my senior basketball season," Wakeman said. "There's no other group of girls I'd rather continue on with than the ones on this team."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org