Falcons outlast Madison County to claim district tournament title

WOODSTOCK – Central High School’s boys basketball team streaked its way to the Bull Run District regular season title earlier this season. The Falcons added the district tournament championship to its trophy case Thursday night.

Top-seeded Central survived another test from No. 2 Madison County – the only district team to beat the Falcons during the regular season – at home in the Bull Run District championship game, riding a strong fourth quarter to create separation in a back-and-forth game and picking up a 50-41 win.

The Falcons will host Wilson Memorial, the No. 4 seed from the Shenandoah District, in the Region 2B tournament quarterfinals next Tuesday.

“We had some goals set out in the preseason,” Falcons head coach Jeff Whittle said, “we wanted to win the regular season district and we wanted to win the tournament, keep advancing and try to win the regional championship and so on. We went through a little stretch there during the season where we had a little lull but since that one Strasburg home game we kind of got back to playing like we have.”

Central (21-3) struggled at times offensively against an aggressive Madison County (11-13) defense on Thursday night but found buckets when they counted in the fourth period. With the game tied 35-35 entering the final quarter, 6-foot-4 freshman Dominic Strother came alive with a trio of buckets over a span of 1:17 to give Central a 41-35 lead.

Madison County cut the Falcons’ lead to 4 points twice midway through the frame, but Central junior Sam Shifflett all but sealed the victory when he scooped up a low inbounds pass on the wing and nailed a 3-pointer to put the Falcons up 46-39 with 1:40 left.

The Mountaineers, who hit only 3 of 16 shots in the fourth, never got any closer.

“They don’t ever back down from anyone and they were motivated going into that fourth quarter. I didn’t feel like we were tired or anything. I felt like we had a lot of energy. I just kept telling them to emphasize defense and rebounding because (Madison County) is a tough team to box out.”

Central, which had scored 69 or more points in each of its last three games, shot only 37.2 percent (14-for-43) from the field in the game and saw some of its usual heavy hitters struggle from the floor.

Junior point guard Jared Patton picked up the slack for the Falcons, particularly in the first half when he scored 15 of his game-high 19 points to held send Central into halftime with a 25-22 lead. Patton was the Falcons’ only double-figure scorer in the win.

“He’s played extremely well all season, but especially these last few games … not only just running the point and getting us into what we need to do but he also can score,” Whittle said. “He can attack the rim, he can shoot the three, he can play some defense – a pretty all-around good player. He just kept us in it. If he didn’t play extremely well in the first half we’d probably be down double digits going into halftime.”

Central’s defense, which alternated between man-to-man and a 2-3 zone, held Madison County to its own so-so offensive performance. The Mountaineers shot only 30.9 percent (17-for-55) in the game, and the Falcons held 6-3 senior Kobi Alexander – who was named the district’s player of the year following the game – to 9 points.

Elijah Lewis led Madison with 13 points (he scored nine of those in the second period) and Gaines Swink added 10 points.

“I thought we struggled offensively finishing around the rim but I thought we were playing pretty decent defense enough to keep us in the game, because they’re a pretty athletic team,” Whittle said. “They might even be more athletic than us.”

Central now turns its attention to Wilson Memorial, and Whittle said the Falcons are looking forward to the three days of preparation they’ll have for what he said should be a good matchup.

“We’ve seen them play. They play with a good pace,” Whittle said. “They’re sort of like us, and they have a big guy inside. I know the other night he got banged up so I’m not sure – hopefully he’s healthy. I don’t wanna play when he’s not healthy. I’d like to see them with everyone they have. But it’s gonna be a good game. Even though they’re a four seed that Shenandoah District’s pretty tough.”