Third-period surge lifts Eagles past Falcons

ELKTON — Central stayed close with high-powered East Rockingham for the first half, but things changed in the second half.

The Eagles used a strong third period to pull away in a 56-35 boys basketball victory over the Falcons in the first round of the Region 2A East tournament Friday.

“I just thought coming out after halftime, in the third quarter, they picked it up a little bit,” Central coach Jeff Whittle said. “And of course credit to them they’re well-coached, a great team, and they opened it up a little bit too much.”

The Falcons (11-13) trailed 9-0 to start the game as East Rockingham’s Javon Butler hit a 3-pointer and a layup to spark his team.

The Falcons came right back with back-to-back 3-pointers by Zeb Dyer and Sam Shifflett. The Eagles held a 12-8 lead after the first period.

Central eventually tied the game at 15-15 on a 3-pointer by Luke Estep with 4:54 left in the first half.

“I thought we played a decent first half,” Whittle said. “I thought we did some things well. We kept a good pace to keep us in the game.”

The Eagles (22-4) then roared back with a 9-0 run, led by five points from Butler.

The two teams went back and forth the rest of the half with East Rockingham holding a 27-19 halftime edge.

The Falcons turned the ball over 10 times in the third period and didn’t make a basket for over nine minutes.

Estep made a free throw to start the period, but the Eagles went on a 13-2 run to pull away for good.

“We didn’t do a good job breaking the press, the run and jump,” Whittle said. “Which allowed them to open it up from a single-digit, 10-point game to a 20-point game. Against them we can’t get that far behind.”

The Falcons trailed by at least 18 the entire fourth period.

Central lost by 50 and 31 to East Rockingham in the teams’ two regular-season meetings.

The Eagles were led by Butler with 13 points. Logan Comer had 12 points and Dalton Jefferson and Zach Hall each had 10 for East Rockingham.

Central was led by Estep with 12 points.

Whittle said the team will miss its two seniors Jonathan Baker and Triston Zirk.

“They both are great teammates,” Whittle said of Baker and Zirk. “I enjoyed coaching them. I’m sad to see them go.”

The Falcons started the season off 0-5, including two losses to East Rockingham, and Whittle said he was happy with the way the team progressed throughout the season.

Whittle was hired for the head coaching job just before the season started, and said he’s looking forward to having an entire offseason to work with his players.

“Us coaches are looking forward to have most of the players come back and getting to work with them spring, summer and fall,” Whittle said. “I’m glad for that. We got a lot of kids moving up from (junior varsity) to varsity. I’m excited to see some of these kids. It’s going to be fun. Everybody’s going to have to work harder because practice is going to be better next year. We’ll have a little more athleticism.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or