MARTINSBURG - The Central High School boys basketball team is off to a 2-for-2 start on the three-game stretch that could very well determine the fate of the Scarlet Dragons' season.
After beating Bald Eagle Area to end last week and with a showdown looming against Mountain League co-leader Tyrone, the host Dragons led from their very first possession until the end of the game, pulling to within a game of first in the circuit with a 62-36 victory over previously once-beaten Penns Valley on Wednesday night.
BEA, Penns Valley, Tyrone and Central make up the top four teams in the league standings. Wins over those teams not only loom large for the Dragons in a quest for the league championship but also will help as they seed a favorable seed in what should be a loaded District 6 Class AA tournament in a few weeks.
"They only had one loss this year. This really gets our confidence up," said Central point guard Austin Cunningham. "We had a lot of guys injured at the beginning of the year. We're starting to get guys back, and we're getting our chemistry back now."
Cunningham, who had seven assists, six rebounds and hit a big 3-pointer as the Dragons broke open a tight game in the second half, was one of those players - he sat out Central's 34-31 loss in Spring Mills in early December with an injury and was just playing his second game after getting hurt again a couple of weeks ago. Another Dragon who had missed time recently was undersized forward Lucas Patterson.
Patterson wasn't much of a factor in the first meeting, but he came to play this time around. Patterson finished with 14 points and five rebounds.
"I wanted to come out and play hard, and I did. I rebounded better. I shot better," Patterson said.
Patterson was the only Dragon with at least two field goals in the first half. He scored seven points in the first quarter and had nine by halftime. No other player on either team went into the locker room with six points.
Patterson scored the game's first four points to set the tone. That was important, because Penns Valley is a team that is very good at dictating tempo and likes a more deliberate pace than does Central.
"You have to get out to a good start. If you don't, they control the tempo and hold the ball, and you can't do anything about it," Patterson said.
Zach Slagenweit scored 10 of his game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter, when Central went on a 18-0 run after Penns Valley pulled within five points.
The Rams slipped to 8-2 in the league. They're now tied with Tyrone for first place, and both those teams are a game ahead of Central and Bald Eagle.
Will Jackson fronted Penns Valley with 13 points. Rams' point guard Dalton Ulmanic played some but was nursing an ankle he hurt in his last game.
"They just took it to us, and our defensive work didn't match them," Penns Valley coach Terry Glunt said. "We didn't rebound as well as we would have liked, we gave up too much penetration, we didn't identify starters and we didn't make enough shots."
Despite being a little outsized, Central outrebounded Penns Valley by nine (34-25), chased down 14 offensive boards, fired in seven 3-pointers to the Rams' three and only committed four turnovers. It was enough to make Dragons coach Reggie Nevins regret that it wasn't yet the playoffs.
"We're getting healthy. That's the No. 1 thing," Nevins said. "When we have everybody, we're so good with the ball. I think we've had single-digit turnovers in five of the last six games, so, even if you don't shoot well, you have a lot more chances to shoot.
"Against a team like that, it's critical to get ahead. If you get down eight or 10, it's like being down 20 or 25 to any other team."
Game notes: Central improved to 10-5 overall. ... Slagenweit and Ryan Mills also had six rebounds. ... The Dragons are at Tyrone on Friday.
PENNS VALLEY (36): Ulmanic 0 0-0 0, Jackson 6 1-5 13, Weaver 2 4-4 9, Tobias 0 0-0 0, Engle 2 1-2 5, Alexander 1 3-4 5, Johnson 1 0-0 3, Beamesderfer 0 0-0 0, Pearce 0 0-2 0, T. Collison 0 0-0 0, C. Collison 0 0-0 0. Totals - 12 9-17 36.
CENTRAL (62): Cunningham 1 2-2 5, Slagenweit 5 6-8 17, Lafferty 2 1-2 7, Brumbaugh 0 0-0 0, Patterson 6 2-3 14, Mills 1 2-2 4, Forshey 3 0-0 9, Vollkommer 2 0-0 4, Kensinger 0 0-0 0, Ayers 0 0-0 0, Gahagan 0 0-0 0. Totals - .
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Penns Valley7 9 11 9 - 36
Central12 11 15 24 - 62
3-point goals: Penns Valley 3 (Weaver, Jackson, Johnson); Central 7 (Lafferty 2, Forshey 3, Slagenweit, Cunningham).
Records: Penns Valley (13-2; 8-2 Mountain League); Central (10-5; 7-3 Mountain League).
Officials: Mike Price, Greg Spiker, Ed Beidle.
JV: Central, 42-35. High scorers-Andrew Tobias, PV, 13; Colton Kensinger, C, 11.