Central extends winning streak with victory over Eagles

Sam Shifflett

WOODSTOCK — A statement win.

That’s what Central’s boys basketball team had on Tuesday night as the Falcons beat East Rockingham, 66-58, in non-district action.

The Falcons lost three times last year to the Eagles. Central lost to East Rockingham again in this year’s season opener, 67-44, on Nov. 28. The Falcons have won eight straight games since that defeat.

“We don’t beat these guys a lot,” Central junior Sam Shifflett said. “In the past couple years we haven’t beat ’em a lot. Last year they schooled us every time we played them. So it’s great to bounce back and beat them this year.”

The first time the two teams played this year, the Falcons had several players from the football team that had only been practicing for a week.

Luke Estep

It was obvious from the start on Tuesday how much Central has improved since its season opener.

Shifflett scored 10 points in the first quarter as the Falcons ran out to a 21-10 lead. Shifflett scored 10 of the Falcons’ first 12 points.

“I just came out and the first shot went in, the second one went in,” Shifflett said. “I was just feeling it from there on out. Everything started falling. So it was just going in for me.”

Central built its lead to as many as 17 points, early in the third period. However, the Eagles battled back.

East Rockingham finished the third period on a 15-3 run to cut the lead to 45-40.

The Eagles slowly kept chipping away at the lead in the fourth period, until a basket by Isaac Kisling tied the game at 51.

“I think the second half we struggled a little bit boxing out, when they were making a run,” Central boys basketball coach Jeff Whittle said. “Good teams are going to make a run. After they made a nice little spurt there midway through the third, late third, we were just trying to get our guys to slow down a little bit on offense and take care of the ball. Because we got a little in a hurry some, had some turnovers and got them in transition.”

With the game tied, Shifflett made two big plays to ignite the Falcons again.

Shifflett hit a 3-pointer to give the Falcons a 54-51 edge with 2:44 left.

“That was awesome just to see that go through the net — that was great,” Shifflett said. “I can’t even explain it. That was a great moment, get the crowd going, get us the lead back. That was awesome.”

Shifflett followed it up by making a big play on defense as he drew a charge on East Rockingham’s Griffin Morris.

“Coach always preaches that I need to get tougher, take charges,” Shifflett said. “So I finally made him happy for once.”

A basket by Bryan Davis extended the lead to 56-51 with 2:05 left. Central’s Luke Estep then made a conventional three-point play to push the lead to 59-51 with 1:48 left and the Falcons made seven free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

The Falcons had seven different players score, and had a lot of options offensively. Estep said that is a big advantage for the Falcons.

“We’re a deep team this year,” Estep said. “We have five scorers on the floor at all times. We have people who can play multiple positions at all times. It’s great having such a versatile team.”

Shifflett said it helped that the Falcons had some time off to prepare for East Rockingham.

“All week this is all we’ve looked forward to,” Shifflett said. “Since our last game, which was (Dec. 13) practice has all been about them. We want East Rock. We want East Rock. That was our mentality and it worked out well for us.”

Shifflett had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Estep had 13 points and six rebounds to lead the Falcons. Davis added 10 points for Central. East Rockingham was led by Austin Beaghan with 21 points.

East Rockingham beat Central last year in the first round of the regional tournament, and the two teams could meet again in regionals this season.

For the Falcons the win gives them a boost as they try to keep their winning streak going. Central plays at Jefferson, West Virginia, today.

“I think we can make a run late if we keep playing like we are,” Shifflett said. “This is a great team we just beat. So I think we can do big things if we push ourselves.”