By Dennis Atwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK - Warren County had played four games in search of their first "W" of the season when the Wildcats visited Central in a non-district girls basketball contest Friday night.
Central was looking to recover from a loss at Clarke County on Thursday night when the Falcons' lead slipped away as the Eagles sank six straight free throws in the last 40 seconds to eke out a three-point win.
That first "W" looked within reach for the Wildcats, who used aggressive play to take a one-point halftime lead.
But the Falcons turned the game around with their own aggressive tactics, outscoring the Wildcats 24-9 in the second half to earn a 47-33 victory.
In the first half, the Wildcats used an effective zone defense and a patient top-of-the-key weave on offense, constantly driving to the bucket to earn 19 free-throw attempts, but squandered the opportunity by making only six of them.
The Falcons had only eight free throws in the half, converting three, and committed their 10th foul with 4:25 remaining in the second quarter to give the Wildcats an early automatic double bonus foul-shooting opportunity.
The Wildcats (0-5) held a slim 24-23 lead a halftime.
Then Central (2-2) grabbed the momentum immediately at the start of the second half.
Central junior Ashley Jernigan (7 points) hit the game's only 3-pointer, from the left wing, a mere 15 seconds into the third quarter. She followed with a steal and a layup less than a minute later, giving the Falcons a 28-24 lead that they held the rest of way.
Brea Hinegardner exhibited her senior leadership skills by sinking two field goals midway through third quarter, and notching three more buckets in the fourth quarter to finish with a game-high 12 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
"I know that we were saying in the locker room [at halftime] that we just came off a hard loss to Clarke County," Hinegardner said. "We scored 60 on Clarke County [67 on Dec. 4] and we can't even score 40 against Warren? So we needed to get back to the level we were playing [Thursday], and that's what we did in the second half. We were not going to lose this game. We were not even making it close."
Sophomore Rebecca Sigler contributed eight points for the Falcons.
"[At the half] we just talked to the defense, that we needed to pick up the intensity and really get after them," Falcons coach Stephanie Mathews said. "I felt we were relaxed and just kinda jogging around, and not really playing with a lot of intensity.
"I felt [the girls] responded well and came out at the beginning of the third quarter and started playing harder. [The Wildcats] were kind of sitting back in the zone, which gave us a lot of trouble because we weren't able to drive, and so finally we ran the offense and started to look inside and that worked a lot better for us."
Foul trouble mounted quickly for both squads in the third quarter, with three starters getting their fourth violation -- Central's starting guard Kasey McDonald at the 4:04 mark; and, for the Wildcats, Rebecca Wheeler at 3:12; followed by Gabby Turner at 2:06.
The Falcons' scoring outburst, and continuous full-court press, took their toll on the Wildcats, who managed only three points on eight free-throw attempts in the third quarter and six points in the fourth quarter as Central continued to build its lead with 11 third-quarter points and 13 in the fourth.
Warren County finished the night shooting a woeful 11-of-33 on free throws, while Central managed 8-for-15.
Briana Caison led the Wildcats with eight points. Valery Eller and Kelly Martin scored seven each.
"The first three minutes of the second half really hurt us," Wildcats coach John Kelly said. "We backed off. Our strongest point in the first half was our intense zone defense, even though it's hard to maintain a strong 'come out to getcha' zone. And we didn't have that in the second half.
"In the first few minutes we threw up some ill-advised shots and then just got cold. We have to scrap for everything we get. The first half went our way and the second half went their way."
Warren County has been without the services of three-year starter senior forward Alicia Calevro, who tore an ACL in a preseason scrimmage.