By Robert Edmonds - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL - A quick start and a dominant finish gave Warren County and first-year boys basketball coach Vernon Mathews their first win in the young season 63-51 against the visiting Strasburg Rams on Friday night.
"It was nice to get this win out of the way," Mathews said. "But it is much better for the kids. They had such a rough start last year after starting 0-11. This is huge for our confidence and puts a much different outlook on the rest of the season."
Junior Logan Hibbs led the way with 26 points, including six 3-pointers. Hibbs hit four treys in the fourth quarter alone to lead the way as the Wildcats extended their lead to double digits. Teammate Marty Haley helped seal the victory from the free-throw line as he connected on 6-of-8 down the stretch.
"I actually asked coach to put me in," Haley said, referring to the stretch at the end of the game. "We knew they were going to foul, and I'm pretty good from the free-throw line. He put me in and I shot them good."
"This is a big confidence boost," Hibbs said. "We really needed a win tonight. We played hard and didn't want to be out-rebounded. We tried to control the tempo and we weren't going to let them come out in the second half and outrun us."
The Wildcats began the night as hot as they finished it from behind the arc, as Dakota Pratscher connected twice in the first quarter. Hibbs and teammate Jon Roof each hit 3-pointers of their own as Warren found itself in control early on.
"One person is not always going to be hot every night," Mathews said. "You have to have other guys who can come in and make plays, and on this team we have four or five players that are capable of scoring in double figures."
Strasburg struggled in the first quarter as the Rams appeared impatient and shaken by the Wildcats' strong start.
The Rams settled down, however, as the second quarter began. Bub McKelvey led Strasburg from the floor, penetrating the Wildcats' defense as he led the offense. After being fouled while dashing through the lane, McKelvey downed a pair of free throws to pull his team to within two at 19-17.
"Bub had some nice drives, but he couldn't get them to fall," Rams coach Millson French said. "That happens sometimes, but he went to the free-throw line and hit some shots. We just didn't move the ball like we needed to."
Warren never showed a sign of fear, however. After seeing their lead cut to one point, Hibbs took over as the half drew to a close, single-handedly breaking the game open. First, Hibbs scored on an easy lay-in after cutting through the lane. Then, Hibbs scored on an offensive putback following a Damien Caison miss.
Hibbs finally finished off his brilliant first-half performance with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give his team an eight-point lead at 28-20 as the first half came to a close.
"I owe a lot of thanks to my teammates tonight," Hibbs said. "They were setting some hard screens and opening me up. That helps a lot and is part of why I was able to get hot like that."
Strasburg again battled back in the third quarter when the game resumed. McKelvey, David Jodrie and Jordan Williams each hit a field goal in the first two minutes as the Rams inched closer. A driving lay-in by McKelvey gave Strasburg its first lead halfway through the quarter, but it would not last long.
"I thought they played very well tonight," French said. "You have to tip your hat to them. When we had the score tied, turnovers hurt us. We did play much better as a unit on defense when we settled down. It wasn't enough, but we made progress and that's what we're trying to do."
Roof's second trey of the night gave the Wildcats the lead before Hibbs' hot hand in the fourth and the Wildcats' solid play completed the victory.
"Logan really carried us tonight," Mathews said. "He hit some huge shots, but it helped more than just in the score. You could see the reaction in the kids. Everybody played harder and it really helped with our attitude. He is a leader and tonight he stepped up and put the team on his back and carried us."