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Central girls ride defense to win over Rams in district tournament semifinals

Strasburg's Danielle Henry and Central's Tycara Scott battle for a rebound during third quarter action of the Bull Run District tournament quarterfinals held Tuesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Rhythmic, efficient offenses were nonexistent when Central and Strasburg met for the third time this season in Tuesday’s Bull Run District girls basketball tournament semifinals. But as they’ve done frequently during their lengthy win streak, the Falcons found the winning edge with their defense.

No. 2 Central held the third-seeded Rams to 4 points or less in three of four quarters, forced 21 turnovers and swiped 13 steals on its way to a 35-18 win, its third in three tries this season over its county rival.

The victory was the 10th straight for the Falcons and sends Central into Thursday’s district tournament championship game against top-seeded George Mason, but the Falcons’ performance left head coach Bryan Scott wishing he’d seen a little bit more on the offensive end.

“I wasn’t proud of the offensive output but what’s been winning us games is defense and we did play some defense,” Scott said. “I tried to drive home that down there at their place the last time we played them (last week), we had 15 steals but we’ve gotta convert those steals into points, and we didn’t do it again tonight. I mean we had plenty of steals but we didn’t convert them into points. I’m hoping that’s out of our system because right now you’re getting into regional play. When you get chances to score easy baskets off of steals, you’ve gotta do it because that’s what’s gonna win you ballgames.”

Central (15-8) shot only 28 percent (14-for-50) from the floor in Tuesday’s win but saw Strasburg suffer through a miserable shooting night that ended with the Rams hitting just 6 of 29 shot attempts for a 20.7 percent mark. The Rams (14-10) made only one shot attempt each in the first, third and fourth periods and scored only 7 points in the second half. Jayden Alsberry scored all 7 of those second-half points to finish with 9 to lead the Rams.

Central's Ayanna Strother puts up a shot over Strasburg's Christyan Reid during the first quarter of the Bull Run District tournament quarterfinals held Tuesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg assistant coach Frankie Conner, serving as the head coach while Darin Jenkins was out of town for a business trip, said the loss was one the Rams would soon like to forget as they prepare to hit the road for next week’s Region 2B tournament.

“The press gave us trouble last game. We worked on some stuff and it just didn’t come to fruition,” said Conner, who watched as Central’s full-court zone pressure forced nine Ram turnovers in the backcourt. “And then plus we had a lot of balls in and out. We got good shots in the first half. We had a lot of shots in the first half that were good shots, we just couldn’t get them to go. But we had a bad practice (Monday night) and it turned into a bad performance tonight.”

Central, not by design, was very deliberate on offense from the start and didn’t hit its first field goal until Maria Marston – who led all scorers with 12 points – sank a 3-pointer from the wing to give the Falcons a 4-2 lead four minutes into the action.

The Falcons led 11-3 at the end of the first period but saw that advantage shrink to 11-7 when Strasburg scored the first 4 points of the second quarter on a pair of Daniella Henry free throws and Camerin Alsberry’s runner in transition.

Tycara Scott (6 points, six rebounds in the win) and Ayanna Strother (8 points, nine rebounds) combined to score 7 unanswered points for Central to stretch the lead back to 18-7, and after Marston’s putback with 2:22 left in the first half, the Falcons never led by fewer than 11 points.

Strasburg's Debra Dillman goes up for a layup as Central's Maria Marston defends during third quarter action of the Bull Run District tournament quarterfinals held Tuesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Kendall Herbaugh added 6 points and seven rebounds for Central and Bailey Gale had three steals and seven rebounds.

“We did a lot of standing around on offense tonight and I didn’t like that,” Bryan Scott said. “We’ve had a lot of success cutting to that middle or doing some different things out of (our offense).

“I think we got caught up kind of watching Ayanna do her thing instead of just being aggressive and attacking and playing hard on offense.”

Tuesday’s victory, in addition to setting up a rematch with Mason for the Bull Run District tournament title (the teams split two regular-season meetings), guarantees Central a home game in the first round of next week’s Region 2B tournament.

“That’s big for the school and for us,” Bryan Scott said. “No matter who it is, they’ve gotta come here. Hopefully we’ll get a great crowd out to support the girls. I drove that home trying to give them another incentive to play good and to pull out a win.”

Central's Tycara Scott fires a shot over Strasburg's Daniella Henry during during second quarter action of the Bull Run District tournament quarterfinals held Tuesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg's Christyan Reid is double teamed by Central's Tycara Scott , left, and Ayanna Strother, right, during the first quarter of the Bull Run District tournament quarterfinals held Tuesday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily