Fields’ free throws help Falcons hold off Rams
WOODSTOCK– Cianne Fields had been on both sides of late-game free throws before.
The Central senior missed a big one last year in a loss, and made some big ones in a win, and on Saturday night she tried to use that experience to her advantage.
Fields came through for the Falcons, making three free throws in the final seconds to give Central a 52-50 victory over Strasburg in the Conference 35 tournament semifinals.
“Last year we lost the (Central) Hall of Fame game to John Champe and I missed it on some free throws, and then when we played Strasburg I made them,” Fields said. It took me back to then. That’s what was going to save the game, and I think that’s what really pushed me.”
The top-seeded Falcons were pushed throughout the entire game by a very feisty fourth-seeded Strasburg squad.
Central (20-2) led almost the entire game, but the Rams kept it close throughout.
Trailing 44-39, the Rams rode one last wave of momentum. Strasburg’s Olivia Gochenour made a basket and teammate Debra Dillman made two free throws to cut the lead to 44-43 with 1:30 left in the game.
Central’s Meredith Phillips scored inside the paint to extend the lead to 3. Strasburg’s Kelsey Jenkins broke into a smile after being fouled on a 3-point attempt with 1:16 remaining, bringing the Strasburg crowd to its feet.
Jenkins made two of three free throws to cut the lead to 46-45. The Rams lost in lopsided fashion in both regular-season meetings, but it was a different story in the conference semifinal.
“I told them the longer we can hang in there with them I thought the advantage was to us, because the pressure was all on them at that point,” Strasburg coach Darin Jenkins said. “We were loose. We were the underdogs. We talked about that. The longer we hung around I thought our chances got better. We just couldn’t get over the hump at the end.”
The Falcons responded with a free throw by Tamra Scott and two free throws by Ayanna Strother for a 49-45 lead with 25 seconds remaining.
Kelsey Jenkins, who had a game-high 27 points, drilled a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one with 15 seconds
Fields then made two free throws to extend the lead to 51-48 with 12 seconds left. After a Strasburg turnover, Fields made another free throw with nine seconds left to seal the win.
“I’m either going to make it or I’m not,” Fields said of her late-game free throws. “So it really puts me in the mindset that I’ve got to be positive and just try my best.”
Kelsey Jenkins scored Strasburg’s first 4 points to give them their first and only lead of the game, 4-3.
The Falcons then went on a 12-0 run, led by 6 points from Tamra Scott.
The Rams (10-13) responded with 4 straight points to cut the lead to 7 after the first period.
“We wanted to try to maintain the first three, four minutes of the game,” Darin Jenkins said. “The last two times we’ve played them after the half or the first quarter it was over with. We talked about it all week. We talked about what we needed to do, and they went out and they executed perfectly.”
The Rams stayed within striking distance throughout the second period and trailed 26-21 at the half.
Central pushed the lead to 34-25 with 4:24 left in the third period. Strasburg responded with a 6-0 run to close out the period.
“Since we played them two other times, I think they definitely knew that we like to run and they definitely hung with us on that,” Tamra Scott said. “I’m going to give it to them — they out-rebounded us tonight on the boards offensively and defensively. That’s usually where all our fast breaks come from are rebounds, and they just beat us on that tonight.”
The two went back and forth to start the fourth period. Twice Central built a five-point lead only to see the Rams battle right back.
Darin Jenkins said he was very proud of his young team, which has only three seniors.
“We needed that. I knew we had it in us,” he said. “It was just a matter of getting it out of all of them. The biggest hurdle was getting them to believe in themselves. …I told everyone of those girls — the girls that played, the girls on the –everyone of them put in a good week of practice. That was a team effort.”
Haley Bischoff had 6 points and nine rebounds, and Daniella Henry had 5 points and 10 rebounds for Strasburg.
The Rams advanced to the Region 2A East tournament with Thursday’s win over Madison County. Strasburg will play at Wilson Memorial on Friday in the first round of regionals. Darin Jenkins said he thinks having the regional berth, which was a big goal at the start of the season, locked up helped the Rams play better against the Falcons.
“I think after the win on Thursday night, I think we were all able just to sigh a little bit. Take a deep breath and say ‘OK we’ve reached our goal. Now let’s go out and play loose, have fun and keep it simple.’ And that’s really what we were doing tonight, and I think it worked. I’m proud of them.”
Tamra Scott had 19 points and five rebounds, and Strother had 12 points and eight rebounds to lead Central. Phillips added 11 points and five rebounds.
The win guarantees Central a home game in the first round of regionals on Friday. Central will host George Mason in the Conference 35 final on Monday at 7 p.m. A win would give the Falcons their second conference title in the last three years.
“This was a tough one. We overlooked Strasburg, but we’re going for the title,” Tamra Scott said. “We won that my freshman year. Last year we didn’t quite make it, but this year we’re going for the top.”
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org