MARTINSBURG - The top boys basketball teams in the Mountain League have been taking turns knocking each other off this season, and Friday night was Central's turn for a little payback on Bald Eagle Area.
To Scarlet Dragon wins, Zach Slagenweit and Alex Lafferty, the hoop must have looked as large as the torso-sized cut-out of the face of coach Reggie Nevins that one of the Central students was carrying. They combined for 41 points - including 36 in the final three quarters - as the Dragons moved into a tie with BEA for third place in the circuit just a win behind the leaders by beating the Eagles at home, 64-58.
"We came in off a disappointing loss to Clearfield, and we knew if we wanted to stay in the hunt for the Mountain League we had to win this game," said Slagenweit, who fired in a game-high 25 points, making four 3-pointers and scoring 18 in the second half. "We played pretty well on defense. We got [Austin] Cunningham back [from injury], which creates so many shots for us, and we just played a heck of a game. We shot the ball well, didn't turn it over much, and that was the key to our victory."
The Dragons were without Cunningham when they dropped a 58-54 overtime decision in Wingate on Dec. 13. Both teams are now 6-3 in the league - Penns Valley leads in the standings at 7-1, while Tyrone is 7-2. Huntingdon is right there too at 6-4.
"It was a big win," Nevins said. "They're the same as us. They have four really athletic guys and a big guy that can play some. So we match up so evenly. We wanted to force them to shoot the ball from the outside, but they shot it well. It was critical we take care of the basketball, because they exert a lot of pressure."
One guy who didn't seem to feel the pressure was Lafferty. With the Dragons trailing by as many as six in the first half, Lafferty, who was admonished by Nevins earlier for passing up an open shot, scored 12 points in the second quarter as Central surged ahead late in the second quarter. The Dragons never trailed after that.
Lafferty tied the game at 28 with his second 3-pointer and made two free throws at the end of the half to put Central ahead by four. He finished with 16 points, saying it was one of his best shooting nights of the season.
"It was just the way we were moving in our offense. Everyone was swinging the ball well, and it got us open shots," Lafferty said.
Lafferty missed a couple of free throws with 38.4 seconds to go that left the door open for the Eagles, who were down 60-58. However, Lafferty got another chance 16 seconds later and made both foul shots to make it a two-possession game again.
"I just went up there and tried to bend my legs more. I tried to get the previous ones out of my head and make the next ones," Lafferty said.
Slagenweit nailed a deep 3 with 2 minutes left in the third to give Central its largest lead of eight, then hit another as the Dragons pulled ahead by seven with about 5 minutes to play. His biggest play, though, might have come moments before the second trey, a steal near the foul line with BEA within two.
"We had a trap in the corner, and I just read the pass and tipped it and got fouled," Slagenweit said.
The Eagles didn't go away and had one final chance, but Central swarmed a driving Brandon Gettig and forced him to travel while driving with 23.7 seconds left in a two-point game.
"They made the plays when they had to," BEA coach Bill Butterworth said of Central. "Central can beat anybody the way they shoot the ball. They can give anybody fits."
BEA dipped to 11-4 overall. It was led by Bryan Greene's 19 points.
Game notes: Ryan Mills had a team-high 10 rebounds for Central. ... The Dragons have three games next week, hosting Forest Hills to start on Tuesday. Then they host Penns Valley and travel to Tyrone. ... Each team made eight 3-pointers. BEA had seven in the first 13 minutes, while Central made six in the last three quarters.
BALD EAGLE AREA (58): Bryan Greene 6 5-6 19, Bryce Greene 4 1-4 9, Dyke 2 0-0 6, Gettig 3 2-2 11, Jones 2 2-2 6, Bennett 2 0-0 5, Butterworth 1 0-1 2, Chambers 0 0-0 0. Totals - 20 10-15 58.
CENTRAL (64): Cunningham 2 1-5 5, Slagenweit 7 7-9 25, Lafferty 5 4-7 16, Brumbaugh 0 0-0 0, Patterson 2 3-3 7, Mills 1 1-1 3, Vollkommer 0 2-4 2, Forshey 2 0-0 6, Kensinger 0 0-0 0, Gahagan 0 0-0 0. Totals - 19 18-29 64.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bald Eagle Area18 10 15 15 - 58
Central15 17 18 14 - 64
3-point goals: Bald Eagle Area 8 (Gettig 3, Bryan Greene 2, Bennett, Dyke 2); Central 8 (Slagenweit 4, Forshey 2, Lafferty 2).
Records: Bald Eagle Area (11-4; 6-3 Mountain League); Central (9-5, 6-3 Mountain League).
Officials: Don Donaldson, Sarah Fye, Rod Brumbaugh
JV: Central, 41-36. High scorers-Troy Butterworth, BEA, 8; Colton Kensinger, C, 19.