WOODSTOCK — Given how handily Central’s girls basketball team lost its previous two games, Saturday’s win over Skyline would’ve been a beautiful sight no matter how the Falcons got it.
Saturday’s non-district contest didn’t feature much in the way of efficient offense — neither team shot better than 33 percent and both sides combined for 39 turnovers — but the Falcons picked up a 48-45 win to snap their recent skid and get some good vibes going as they prepare to dive into the meat of their Bull Run District schedule.
Central’s district opener on Friday at Clarke County ended in a 26-point loss — which came on the heels of a 23-point setback to Turner Ashby two days prior — but head coach Bryan Scott said he saw positive flashes in the third period of that defeat and challenged his team to bring that to the Skyline matchup.
“I told the girls to take that today and we did,” he said after Saturday’s win. “We actually played tonight with that intensity that we did (Friday) night over at Clarke in that third quarter, pretty much the whole game. Defensively, that’s what we lean on, playing defense. I think playing man and doing some things, we’re working with the girls, talking about help side, playing help side and all that. At times it showed. I told them I was real proud of them because we’ve been working hard at it for the past three weeks.”
Central (6-6) limited a Skyline (4-7) squad starved for offense to a 16-for-52 (30.8 percent) mark from the floor and forced 20 turnovers, but the Hawks’ third loss in their last four games was largely the result of their own making.
Skyline head coach Jim Kenney quickly pointed to the culprit when he brought up the Hawks’ performance from the free-throw line.
“There it is right there,” he said, pointing to the tablet in his hand, “nine for 23.”
That’s what Skyline shot from the line in the 3-point loss, a mere 39.1 percent.
“It’s like I told them in there, this loss is self-inflicted. Totally self-inflicted,” Kenney said. “This game, if we can even shoot 50, 60 percent from the free-throw line, we win. We had 20 turnovers against a team that doesn’t press. It’s just a mindset.”
Central, which held a 25-19 lead at halftime after ending the first half on a 5-0 run, threatened to run away with the game with an 8-2 run — powered by 4 points apiece from senior Kendall Herbaugh and junior Maya Frye-Williams — that pushed the lead to 12 midway through the third period.
Skyline countered with a 7-0 run to trim the Falcons’ lead to five, and Kyra Whitmore’s 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in the third period sent the Hawks into the final quarter trailing 36-32.
Rachel Sirbaugh’s trey from the corner to open the final frame pulled Skyline within one, but both teams went scoreless for the next 2 ½ minutes, a span that saw the Hawks turn the ball over on four straight possessions without attempting a shot.
Central managed to cling to the lead as both teams started trading points, and the Falcons caught a break when Skyline sophomore Christa Grady was called for a lane violation after sinking what would’ve been the tying free throw with 2:50 to play.
After Skyline’s Molly Meador cleaned up a missed free throw with a putback that cut Central’s lead to 44-42 with 36.7 seconds left, Central junior Maria Marston — who missed three of her first four free throws in the fourth period — sealed the win with four free throws and a key steal in the final 16 seconds.
Marston, who led the Falcons with 17 points, seven rebounds and three steals, missed nearly the entire third period after getting hit with her third and fourth fouls early in the second half and didn’t re-enter the game until the 6:05 mark of the final quarter.
“I looked up and it was getting close and I’m thinking ‘OK, six minutes, do I ride it out anymore or do I take a chance?’” Scott said of sticking Marston back into the game with four fouls. “I took my chance and put her in there, which was key. She was big, got some big rebounds, a couple big steals.”
Central, which shot only 33.3 percent from the floor and made 20 of 31 free throws, attempted only one field goal — Olivia Wightman’s made jumper from just outside the lane in transition with 1:45 left — over the final 2:30 of the game and went to the free-throw line four times on five possessions in that span.
“We were just trying to run our offense and not get in such a big hurry and turn the ball over,” Scott said. “In some cases it didn’t work. I want us to learn and grow from some things and I just told the girls, sometimes a win like this is good because I earn my pay, because I gotta tell them — especially when they pay attention and do the things (I tell them), especially there at the end.”
Frye-Williams had 12 points for Central, and Herbaugh had 11 points and 12 rebounds, somewhat negating a solid defensive effort Skyline put on Falcons senior forward Tycara Scott, who went scoreless in the win.
“We did a good job on Scott but we let a couple of those other girls get a few shots and they got some confidence,” Jim Kenney said. “We let Maya (Frye-Williams), I don’t know how many times, we just let her go coast-to-coast with nobody stopping the ball, nobody rotating over.”
Shyla Schmitz (eight rebounds) led Skyline with 9 points, Sirbaugh had 8 points (she hit a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the game) and Meador had 7 points and 12 rebounds.