WOODSTOCK — Somewhere among the muddled mess of 66 turnovers, 32 missed free throws and 44 fouls, a girls basketball game was played on Friday night at Central that decided the playoff fates of the two teams involved.
The Falcons somehow emerged the victorious one.
Hosting No. 5 Clarke County in the quarterfinal round of the Bull Run District tournament, fourth-seeded Central pulled off a rare feat by surviving 39 turnovers in a 48-41 win over the Eagles. It was the Falcons’ first win in three tries against Clarke this season, and it secured Central (11-12) a spot in the Region 2B tournament in addition to a district semifinal date with top-seeded George Mason in Falls Church on Tuesday evening.
How exactly the Falcons won Friday night’s game was a mystery to head coach Bryan Scott after the game.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know how we pulled that one out,” Scott said with a chuckle, shaking his head in disbelief. “I told the girls right there, and I’m gonna be honest, that might’ve been one of the worst games we’ve played all year. And we still put up 45 points and won the game. I don’t know.”
It didn’t hurt that Clarke County (8-13), a team that got caught in a downward spiral over the season’s second half and lost 10 of its final 12 games, fought its own battles on the offensive end all night.
The Eagles shot only 29 percent, turned the ball over 27 times and were just 10-for-23 from the free-throw line. Head coach Regina Downing said afterward her team was the victim of too many breakdowns and turnovers on offense. Clarke also was killed on the glass, getting outrebounded 50-25.
That helped negate some of Central’s self-inflicted damage that included 19 missed free throws.
“We’ve always been a defensive-centered team throughout the years under coach Scott,” Falcons senior Kendall Herbaugh said, “and I’m just glad our defense was able to make up for our offense.”
Outside of a brief stint at the start of the third period — when back-to-back buckets in the paint from Tycara Scott (10 points, 12 rebounds) gave Central a 10-point lead — the Falcons’ offense lacked any semblance of flow.
Clarke County’s inability to stop fouling played into the game’s herky-jerky feel — three Eagles had fouled out before the dust settled and the final buzzer sounded — but Central couldn’t capitalize and shot only 48.6 percent (18-for-39) from the free-throw line.
And then there were the turnovers. Oh, the turnovers.
The Falcons had committed 17 of them by halftime and yet still carried a 25-20 lead into the break after Maya Frye-Williams’ 3-pointer with five seconds left in the first half capped a 5-point Central possession. They committed 22 more in the second half and yet somehow never lost their grip on the lead.
Clarke County, pestering the Falcons all night with full-court man-to-man defense, finished with 21 steals — Lauren Clapp had seven and Raegan Owens (15 points) had six — and many of those came right off inbounds passes in the backcourt.
“We definitely just get too ahead of ourselves,” Herbaugh said. “We keep rushing, we don’t really think things through. … We just kind of throw the ball not necessarily knowing if anyone’s there, or we look and then we wait and let the defender get up on them. We just kind of need to work on slowing down and kind of thinking basketball smart.”
Central largely had Herbaugh to thank for the victory that extends the Falcons’ season for at least another week. The senior led all scorers with 21 points to go along with 11 rebounds and four steals, and she scored 10 of the Falcons’ 13 points in the fourth period.
After Clarke County cut the Falcons’ lead to 37-35 early in the fourth, Herbaugh punched the ball away from an Eagle ball-handler at halfcourt and converted an easy bucket on the other end.
When the Eagles again trimmed the deficit to 2 points 90 seconds later, Herbaugh sank a pair of free throws to push the lead back to four. Her jumper from the wing with 1:40 left extended Central’s advantage beyond 2 points for the final time.
Herbaugh, who was 10-for-14 from the free-throw line, also had two steals over the final 40 seconds of the game, and her four made free throws over the last 18 seconds sealed the win.
“Tonight I’ve just gotta give it all to Kendall Herbaugh,” Bryan Scott said. “She’s probably the reason why I’m talking to you guys, no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Herbaugh said all that was going through her mind in the closing minutes was focusing on getting the win and sending her team to the Region 2B tournament. Central will be making its fourth trip to the regional tournament in as many seasons.
“Overall it’s wide open,” Bryan Scott said of the region playoff picture, “so if you can start peaking at the end of the season you can find yourself going on a little deep run, especially coming out of the region. It’s a tough region, I feel like the talent is kind of even. If you can start playing together and doing the right things — of course, we’ve gotta do a lot better than we did tonight.”