Central girls top Rams as both teams gear up for playoffs

Central's Tycara Scott and Strasburg's Jaden Alsberry fight for a loose ball as Strasburg's Christyan Reid and Camerin Alsberry, right, look on during second quarter action Tuesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Central High School’s girls basketball team proved it could go on the road and scrap out a victory in a close game. Strasburg showed it has the ability to make a run at the top teams in the district. Both did so in their meeting in the regular-season finale Tuesday night with the Bull Run District tournament set to begin later this week.

Central, which had beaten the Rams by 17 points in their first meeting of the season on Jan. 19, survived the rematch with its county rival while pulling out a 53-46 victory, stretching its winning streak to nine straight heading into the postseason.

The victory was just the second during Central’s winning streak in which the Falcons won by fewer than 15 points.

“Not that the past nine have been easy but we’ve kind of won them by double figures. Again, it kind of shows you your character when you’ve gotta win like this,” said Falcons head coach Bryan Scott, whose team will be the second seed in the Bull Run District tournament and, like Strasburg, has already locked up a spot in the Region 2B tournament field.

“Hard-fought game. That’s the type of game I like to coach. That’s where you earn your money. I’m very proud of the girls.”

Central's Ayanna Strother shoots as Strasburg's Daniella Henry and Christyan Reid apply pressure. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg (13-9, 6-4 Bull Run), which hasn’t beaten Central (14-8, 8-2) since 2014, threatened to end that drought with an energetic start to senior night that saw the Rams lead for most of the first half.

A 7-0 Ram run – which included an offensive putback by Daniella Henry, a corner 3 from Jaden Alsberry and a baseline jumper by Maddie Smallwood (11 points) – gave Strasburg a 25-16 lead midway through the second period.

“We came out with a lot of intensity,” said Rams head coach Darin Jenkins, who added that Strasburg showed improvement in its box-outs and transition defense from its first matchup with Central. “The game plan that we put in place (Monday) for them, I thought we executed it good. I thought we caused them some trouble. And we shot the ball well early. That kept us in there.”

Scott, who said he was glad his team got the chance to pull off such a victory with the playoffs looming, saw his team respond to trim the deficit to 2 points at halftime. The Falcons, not known for their 3-point shooting, got a pair of treys from Maria Marston and Bailey Gale to pull within 25-22 with 2:52 left in the first half, and Kendall Herbaugh’s stickback with five seconds left in the second period cut Strasburg’s lead to 29-27 heading into the break.

“That’s the first time really we’ve kind of been down here lately, and that’s why I say I’m proud of the girls because we didn’t give up,” Scott said. “We could’ve easily tucked our tails and let them run away with it. But we fought back, closed it within two at the half. Like I say, we played hard, and I like it.”

Rich Cooley won second place in the Readers' Choice awards for sports photography with this photo: Strasburg High School's Darrin Jenkins buries his head after his girls team blows a lead in the fourth quarter Tuesday night against Central. Rich Cooley/Daily

As it’s done throughout its win streak, Central clamped down on defense in the second half, but not before losing track of the 6-foot-2 Alsberry on the perimeter early in the third period after switching from its usual 3-2 zone to a 2-3. Alsberry, who led the Rams with 15 points and 11 rebounds, hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the second half to help Strasburg withstand a scoring outburst from Falcons forward Tycara Scott.

The Falcons held Strasburg to 11 points over the final 14 minutes, kept the Rams’ bigs in check – 6-foot-3 sophomore Christyan Reid was held scoreless in the second half – and forced 15 turnovers in the second half alone, many coming off steals in the backcourt with Central applying full-court pressure. The Rams had 26 turnovers in the loss, 15 on Central steals.

“It started looking like the team that I’d been watching for most of the year showed back up,” Jenkins said of Strasburg’s poor ball security against the press, “where no one really wanted the ball, it was like a hot potato, instead of someone just stepping up and going. But again I’m not criticizing anybody. I thought it was a great team effort. I’m proud of the girls. I thought they battled hard and hopefully this can leapfrog us into the playoffs.”

Central took the lead for good at the start of the fourth quarter when Tycara Scott had her initial shot blocked by Henry but swiped the ball from the Strasburg junior on the rebound, hit the bucket through contact and made the ensuing free throw to break a 39-all tie with 7:39 left.

Tycara Scott scored all 13 of her points in the second half, many of her buckets coming off driving assists by senior Ayanna Strother, who led the Falcons with 21 points and continued to be what Bryan Scott called his “steady rock.”

Central's Maria Marston, left, and Bailey Gale, right, double team Strasburg's Hannah Alexander during third quarter action. Rich Cooley/Daily

“The key thing for me was just moving and trying to find a place to get the ball,” Tycara Scott said. “I think in the first half I was just sitting and waiting for the ball to come to me but I realized that I needed to move around to get to the ball and crash the boards, (get) rebounds.”

Strasburg, the third seed in the district tournament, hosts No. 6 Rappahannock County in the quarterfinals on Friday. The winner travels to Central next Tuesday. Results from the Bull Run District tournament will determine the teams’ seedings for the Region 2B tournament.

Strasburg's Daniella Henry and Central's Ayanna Strother fight over a loose ball. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg's Christyan Reid shoots over Central's Sydney Putman during third quarter action Tuesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg's Christyan Reid is fouled by Central's Ayanna Strother Tuesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central coach Bryan Scott gives his team instructions during their game against Strasburg on Tuesday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central's Ayanna Strother goes up for a shot as Strasburg's Debra Dillman draws the charge. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg's Daniella Henry looks to pass as Central's Maria Marston defends during second quarter action. Rich Cooley/Daily