STRASBURG - Central and Strasburg have both struggled with second-half starts this season. However, on Saturday night the Falcons were able to fix their problem while the Rams' struggles continued.
Central used a 17-3 spurt to break open a close game en route to a 60-44 Bull Run District victory in front of a packed crowd.
"Usually throughout the year, we've had some rough starts coming out of halftime," Central senior point guard Jared Patton said. "We had a good talk (at halftime) and (Central coach Jeff Whittle) told us to come out with some energy. And we came out moving the ball real well. We set the tone real well and we were playing defense. Defense was key during that run."
With the Falcons (16-5, 7-2 Bull Run) leading 30-24 at the half, Central went on a 17-3 spurt to build the lead to 47-27 with 1:33 left in the third period.
Central junior Alex Neff had nine points during the run.
Strasburg coach Larry Fox said that the slow start was too much to overcome against a quality team.
"We've talked about it for two weeks now getting off to better starts in the third quarter," Fox said. "And maybe we need to try something different because that was a huge stretch starting off the third quarter. We didn't score a basket until maybe the (2)-minute mark in the (third period). And against a team like Central - that's a quality team, that's going to win a lot of games - we can't do that. We got to figure out a way to get off to a better start in the second half, and stop having to dig our way back into games the way we've been."
The Rams (12-8, 4-4 Bull Run) did get back into the game. Strasburg used a 17-5 run over the third and fourth periods to cut the deficit to single digits.
Strasburg junior Craig Pangle scored eight points during the run, including back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to 52-44 with 3:40 left in the game. The Rams went 6-for-8 from the field during that stretch, after going 1-for-8 during Central's 17-3 run.
"Early in the year I don't know if we would have kept competing like that to get back into that game," Fox said. "That just shows how much they've learned. How much they trust each other. How much they've shared the basketball and really care about competing and getting back in games. I thought we did a great job of getting back in the game."
The Falcons responded with two free throws by Patton and a 3-pointer by Sam Shifflett to push the lead back to 57-44 with 2:50 remaining.
Whittle said he was happy with how his team finished the game, especially after the Falcons struggled down the stretch recently against district rival George Mason.
"When Strasburg made a run there in the fourth, I thought we kept our poise and ran our offense and executed down the stretch," Whittle said. "And we closed them out because the last couple games that was something we needed to work on - was closing things out. And I thought they did a heck of a job."
Neff led the Falcons with 17 points and nine rebounds. He said he knew he had to step up in a big game.
"I just finally started to shoot the ball again," Neff said. "And just started getting back into it and playing well again. I knew we had to step it up because it was a big rivalry game. And we had to pick it up and bring the intensity up. And the defense in the second half started to get better and better. And finally, I guess you could say we're where we were at the beginning of the season."
The Rams were led by Pangle with 16 points, 14 of which came in the second half. Stephen Kloosterman added eight points and six rebounds for the Rams.
Strasburg, which is tied for third with Clarke County, hosts first-place George Mason today. A win would give the Rams a good shot at winning the No. 3 seed in the Bull Run District tournament, which starts Friday.
"Another tough one (today)," Fox said. "I think we all know the scenario, the circumstances as to where we stand and what we need to do."
Patton had 14 points and five assists and Dominic Strother had 14 points and eight rebounds for Central.
The Falcons finish the regular season on Tuesday against Madison County. Central will be the No. 2 seed and will start district tournament play on Feb. 12 after receiving a bye in the quarterfinals.
Patton said he's looking forward to playing in the Bull Run District tournament.
"We just need to stay focused in practice, listen to what coach (Whittle) is saying and follow through with the game plan," Patton said. "And I think as long as we play our ball, we should be all right."