Central boys look playoff ready in blowout win over Rams

Central's Bryan Davis, left, and Dominic Strother, right, sandwich Strasburg's Dylan Hamrick, center, with pressure during second quarter action Thursday night in Woodtock. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – If Central High School’s boys basketball team was looking for a tone-setter heading into their Bull Run District tournament quarterfinal game next week, the Falcons perhaps couldn’t have asked for one much better than Thursday night’s win over Strasburg.

The Falcons were dominant in their 77-38 drubbing of their Shenandoah County rivals, putting five scorers in double figures, outrebounding the Rams by 17 and limiting Strasburg’s offense to just 14 points in the second half to put an emphatic stamp on a 19-3 regular season that ended with Central earning the district tournament’s top seed.

Central, which hosts a Bull Run District tournament semifinal game next Tuesday, has already landed a spot in the Region 2B tournament.

“I’ll tell you what, I was talking to a couple coaches in here,” Strasburg head coach Larry Fox said from inside the visitors’ locker room following Thursday’s game, “there’s not many teams they wouldn’t have beaten tonight.”

Central (9-1 Bull Run District), which beat Strasburg (8-14, 4-6) by 13 on Jan. 18, took any potential drama out of the rematch quickly. Senior guard Varsey Bright electrified a raucous Falcon crowd when he torched the Rams for 15 points in the first period, leading to a 26-10 Central lead at the end of one quarter.

Central's Dominic Strother converts on a fast break basket as Strasburg's Trevor Sager looks on during second quarter action Thursday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Bright, who attempted just one shot after the first period, hit all six of his shot attempts in the opening quarter, including a trio of 3-pointers, and finished as the Falcons’ leading scorer.

“I was pumped when I woke up for school, just the whole day,” said Bright, who re-aggravated an ankle injury in the third period and returned briefly later in the frame before sitting out the fourth quarter with the rest of Central’s starters. “I told the guys, ‘I’m gonna play my heart out because this could be the last time I play Strasburg.’ I mean, who knows how this is gonna work (in the district tournament). But after I made my first shot I just kept feeling it and I just kept shooting. They told me to keep shooting and they had my back. It was a great start.”

The Falcons never slowed down from there. They led 46-24 at halftime and 64-33 at the end of three before holding Strasburg to just 5 points in the fourth period.

Central, which had played without a few players due to illness, injury and disciplinary reasons over the last several weeks, had scored 53 points or less in three of its last five games entering Thursday but looked to be firing at full speed against the Rams. The Falcons shot 60 percent in the first half, were incredibly balanced from the inside out and hit eight 3-pointers in the win.

In addition to Bright’s 15 points, Luke Estep (seven points) scored 14, Jared Patton had 12, Sam Shifflett scored 11 and Bryan Davis had 10.

Central's Jared Patton lofts a shot in the lane over Strasburg's Austin Miller during second quarter action Thursday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

“When those guys came back, the team chemistry grew even more,” Bright said. “We know we always have five scorers on the floor at all times and I think we just share the ball. We evenly distribute the ball often throughout. Everyone gets double-digits and that’s just great for a team full of talented players.”

The win was certainly a momentum builder for the Falcons, who had lost two of three games after a 15-game winning streak before closing the regular season with three straight victories, though head coach Jeff Whittle said there is still room for improvement on the defensive end.

“I thought we had a lot of energy tonight and we were aggressive. I hope a lot of that was a credit to us. I also think they missed some shots around the basket,” Whittle said. “I think one thing, we’ve just gotta be more sound trying to get on help side better and trying to take charges and not trying to block so many shots. Overall, I was just mainly pleased with their energy. They were in-tune with the game and that’s all you can ask for.”

Sophomore guard Dylan Hamrick was the lone bright spot for Strasburg, as he finished with 18 of his team’s 38 points.

The Rams shot only 29.5 percent (13-for-44) in the loss, and Fox said Central’s high-percentage shooting effort contributed to Strasburg not being able to find its own offensive flow.

Strasburg's Trevor Sager tries to pass the ball around Central's Samuel Shifflett as he drives the baseline during fourth quarter action Thursday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg, the fourth seed in the Bull Run District tournament, has to turn right around and host No. 5 Clarke County in a 5 p.m. quarterfinal game Saturday, with the winner earning a spot in the Region 2B tournament and another meeting with Central in the district semifinal round. The Rams beat Clarke County twice during the regular season: 47-43 in Berryville on Jan. 4 and 59-49 at home on Jan. 24.

“My message to them was I told them to do me a favor and show up to practice (Friday) and to our game Saturday with the same excitement and energy that you had the first day of tryouts,” Fox said of his postgame words to his players.

“Everybody in the state of Virginia right now is 0-0. Everybody gets a new slate, so let’s see what we can do right now.”

Central's Samuel Shifflett sinks a three point shot as Strasburg's Grant Scott looks on during second quarter action Thursday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg's Garrett Jenkins tries to drive past Central's Bryan Davis during fourth quarter action Thursday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central's Bryan Davis floats to the basket as Strasburg's Garrett Jenkins defends from behind during third quarter action Thursday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily