WILLIAMSBURG - Austin Cunningham scored just five points for Central Thursday night in its game against Northern Bedford County at the Williamsburg Blue Pirate Boosters Holiday Tournament, but his presence on the court accounted for much more.
Playing in his second game after suffering an injury before the season, Cunningham gave the Scarlet Dragons an extra spark, and Central (4-3) stayed a step ahead of the previously unbeaten Black Panthers in a 42-18 first round triumph.
The Dragons will play Williamsburg, which defeated Philipsburg-Osceola in the other first-round game, for the title tonight at 7:30.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Central guard Austin Cunningham takes the ball right at Northern Bedford’s Kyler Diehl.
"We knew we were going to be an exceptionally good team this year," Central coach Reggie Nevins said. "We still will be, but we lost three games by a bucket. All those games were without Austin. We'd be 7-0 if we played with Austin. There's no doubt we would have won all those games."
Cunningham led a defensive effort that forced 22 Northern Bedford turnovers.
But NBC wasn't just turning it over. The Panthers weren't making shots, none, in fact, in the first half.
The Scarlet Dragons carried an 18-1 advantage into the half. Northern Bedford's only point came on a Blake Over free throw with 5:25 to play in the second quarter.
"I didn't think we were going to be missing every shot," Northern Bedford coach Jason Free said. "We were 0-for-11 from the paint in the first half, and normally we shoot about 75 percent in there.
"If we make some layups, it's a completely different game, but credit to them. They played great defensively."
Cunningham made a tip shot just before halftime and a jumper that gave Central a 20-1 lead to begin the second half before Zane Snyder made NBC's first field goal of the game with 7:09 to play in the third quarter.
"We played great defense and rotated well," Central's Zach Slagenweit said. "We're playing our best ball. We got Austin back, and he's our leader. It's helped a lot, because he creates a lot for our offense."
Trailing, 25-3, the Panthers went on an 8-2 run highlighted by an Over steal and dunk, but NBC never recovered from its first-half struggles.
Kyler Diehl, who scored 36 points in Northern Bedford's win over Southern Huntingdon Monday, was held scoreless. Snyder led NBC with six points.
"If I knew how to get the defense to work like that every game, we wouldn't lose too many," Nevins said. "We were really intense. We had an idea of what they wanted to do offensively and worked on it extensively in practice."
On the offensive side, Slagenweit starred for the Dragons.
The senior guard was the only player to score in double figures and finished the night with 16 points.
A year ago, Slagenweit was named the Most Valuable Player of the Williamsburg Holiday Tournament after leading Central to the title, and he may be on his way to a repeat.
"We can feed off this and go on a nice streak here," Slagenweit said. "We're looking to go on a run in February when the playoffs come around."
Northern Bedford, which slipped to 6-1, will almost certainly be heading to the playoffs at the end of the season as well.
"I'm very content overall with how we've played so far this season," Free said. "To go into Christmas undefeated was great. We were averaging almost 70 points a game, but they played us very physical tonight and we kind of lost our composure."
NORTHERN BEDFORD (18): Ebersole 1 0-0 2, Snyder 3 0-0 6, Over 2 1-2 5, Diehl 0 0-2 0, Dasher 0 0-0 0, Cherry 0 0-0 0, Zimmerman 2 0-2 4, Petrou 0 0-0 0, Drenning 0 0-0 0, Foor 0 0-0 0, Batzel 0 1-2 1. Totals - 8 2-8 18.
CENTRAL (42): Cunningham 2 1-2 5, Mills 4 0-0 8, Slagenweit 6 2-5 16, Brumbaugh 2 0-0 4, Lafferty 3 0-0 7, Kensinger 0 0-0 0, Forshey 0 0-0 0, Vollkommer 1 0-0 2, Gahagan 0 0-0 0, Ayers 0 0-0 0, Fields 0 0-0 0. Totals - 18 3-7 42.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Northern Bedford 0 1 10 7 - 18
Central 6 12 13 11 - 42
3-pointers: Northern Bedford: none. Central 3 (Slagenweit 2, Lafferty)
Records: Northern Bedford (6-1); Central (4-3)
Officials: Jim Cushion, Rich Gergely, Jim Klausman