By Brad Fauber
HARRISONBURG -- It wasn't exactly how Central's girls basketball team wanted its season to end.
The Falcons' deepest postseason run in 18 seasons, which led to Central's first state tournament appearance since 1996, came to a screeching halt on Saturday in a 75-52 drubbing at the hands of defending state champion Spotswood in the 3A state semifinals at James Madison University.
Central knew of the daunting task it faced going into Saturday's game against the high-powered Trailblazers, and the Falcons openly embraced the fact they there were indeed the underdogs in the semifinal matchup. But losing the final game of the season -- and in blowout fashion -- always hurts.
Despite the loss, however, the Falcons remained upbeat about all that they accomplished on the court this season and they were grateful for the opportunity to compete as one of the state's final four 3A teams.
"It was a great atmosphere to be in today," said Central senior point guard Katelyn Poston, who ended her career as the school's all-time leading scorer. "We all were excited, had our nerves because we're not used to playing in this type of atmosphere. But I think that it's been a great experience for us and hopefully the underclassmen will just be able to build on what we started this year, and now that they kind of have a feel for it they'll be able to adjust to it a little bit better than we did today."
Senior Sydney Plum said the Falcons were a little in awe of playing at a college venue in front of a larger than normal crowd when the game first tipped off.
"It was definitely nerve-wracking coming out on the big court and looking around, and there was people everywhere," Plum said. "But it also felt good to know that the community was behind you and everyone was there to watch you and support you. But we have to learn to use that to our advantage next time."
Though Poston and Plum admitted there were nerves early for the Falcons on Saturday, Central (19-9) actually played right with Spotswood (26-1) in the first period, as sloppy play was rampant from both teams.
Central rallied from an 8-3 deficit to take a 9-8 lead with 1:22 left in the first period, but the Trailblazers grabbed the lead back on a pair of free throws by Tayler Dodson with 0.7 seconds left in the frame.
Spotswood then pulled away in the second period to the tune of five 3-pointers in the quarter. The Trailblazers would go on to make 9 of 15 3-pointers in the game.
"I think we actually played better when we had a little bit of nerves. I think kind of when we started to settle in is when we started to kind of not play as well," Poston said.
The loss ended a special postseason run for the Falcons, which began on a rather sour note for Central when it lost to Shenandoah County rival Strasburg in the opening round of the Bull Run District tournament.
The Falcons responding by going on to win the Conference 28 tournament title, and wins over James Monroe and John Marshall in the first two rounds of the 3A East Region tournament guaranteed Central a trip to the state tournament.
"It was definitely a stab to the heart when we lost to Strasburg, since that's our big county rival," Plum said. "I think that kind of gave us the motivation to pick it up and finally be a team, and do what it took to win."
"It definitely started with our four seniors and trickled down," Falcons head coach Mallory Skarupa said. "They didn't want to make it their last game. No one wants to end their run and they've done a great job -- a phenomenal job -- of leading our team into that and coming together and clicking at the right time. We hit our stride. If we can do that a little sooner next year, we'll be good. But definitely a lot to build on. I'm very proud of all these girls."
Freshman Tamra Scott, who saved her best performance of her young career (she had a career-high 22 points, 19 rebounds on Saturday) for the Falcons' biggest game of the season, tried her best to give Central's seniors one final memorable moment.
"It's an honor playing for Central," Scott said. "I'm glad we made it this far. I'm proud. It's an honor playing with our four seniors this year and making this their most memorable year."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD