Central closes gym in style

Thanks to their playoff seeding, the Central Chargers got one final chance at an encore performance before moving into a new gymnasium next year.

And they put on quite a show Wednesday in the second round of the GHSA Class AA tournament at the expense of Appling County.

Clad in their orange uniforms, the Chargers scratched their way into the lead just before halftime prior to exploding in the third quarter on the way to upending the Pirates 73-47 to advance to the Elite Eight. Central led 32-28 at halftime and held a 56-38 advantage entering the fourth quarter.

“The first time we closed it out, it was senior night, and it was an ugly win, but it was a win,” Central head coach Andre Taylor said of the school’s gym. “To do it in a state playoff game and in the fashion we did it (Wednesday) was wonderful. We sent it out with a win.”

Central (20-7) will face Dublin on Saturday in the quarterfinals at Savannah State, with the winner advancing to the Final Four at the Macon Coliseum.

“We want to bring it back to Macon,” Taylor said. “It’s been a while since a Macon boys team has been in the Coliseum.”

Perhaps the biggest showstopper of all in Wednesday’s final curtain call was Central’s Matthew Brabham, who along with his teammates stood tall against an Appling County (22-9) team with a clear size advantage in the post.

Central made sure that the Pirates having two 6-foot-8 players, five inches above the Chargers’ biggest player, wasn’t a factor. Central countered Appling County’s size with sharp shooting from 3-point range, a strong offensive presence close to the basket that led to converted layups and won the rebounding battle on both ends of the floor.

“My main focus was to show those big boys that I wasn’t scared of them,” Brabham said. “We started inside and worked our way outside and worked our way back inside.

Brabham led Central with 30 points and Xavier Card added 13.

“He played a smart game (Wednesday). He saw that his shots weren’t falling that much in the beginning, and he started attacking the basket,” Taylor said of Brabham. “It’s probably one of the smartest games he has played this year. He’s just that type of player. He knows what’s on that game and just gets the job done.”

Central drained seven 3-pointers, four by Brabham and three by Card. The Chargers also shut down the Pirates close to the basket with their two big men, Chris Paulk and Adrian Spelman, being held to a combined 15 points.

Central’s Brabham and Card experienced their usual measure of success, combining to score 43 points.

“Coming in, people thought that we were the underdogs because of their size,” Brabham said. “We wanted to show that we could beat this team.”

Both teams stayed within a few points of one another in the first half before the Chargers went into halftime on a 9-0 run that was completed Brabham made a spin move to get around an Appling County defender to give the Chargers a 32-28 lead going into the locker room.

It turned out to be a signal of what was to come in the third quarter.

After the Pirates cut the Central lead to 34-32 less than a minute into the third quarter, the Chargers clamped down on Appling County defensively and executed their offense up and down the court, finding plenty of open shots both close to the basket and toward the outside. Erion Smith’s basket and a 3-pointer by Card started the decisive stretch in the game, and Rashar Knight scored six points in a row to put Central ahead 45-32 with 2:55 left in the third.

Brabham then gave the Central fans another lasting memory from the final game at the gym with three baskets in a row, one from 3-point range, to give the Chargers a 52-36 lead.