By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- The Strasburg gymnasium was thick with all of it: Desperation. Desire. Passion. Yearning.
All of it.
And the exhaustion from it all dyed red the faces of Warren County and Strasburg players alike.
But following Strasburg's 50-48 win in the Daily Classic consolation game on Tuesday, it was the Rams' (3-5) red faces which signified a jovial achievement, and the Wildcats' (2-6) red faces which signified a sour defeat.
"It was a really aggressive game," Strasburg senior Brian Huttner said, "And they were playing us hard and we were playing hard back -- it was intense."
After exploding out to a 45-24 lead with under a minute to go in the third quarter,
Strasburg stumbled over the wrong end of a 20-5 fourth quarter showing, and saw one of its largest leads of the season quickly become its most heated contest of the season.
Warren County guard Marty Haley scored nine in the final frame, four of which marked the first points of the quarter. Logan Hibbs and Jon Roof each added scores of their own, and after four frantic minutes, the Wildcats had chopped their deficit at the legs with 10 straight points.
"That's how we gotta play every game," Haley said. "Before tip-off we have to believe that we're down 10 points and it's one minute left in the game.
"That's how we have to play: we have to bust our butts."
Another Roof basket with 18 seconds left in the game brought Warren County to within 49-46, but a steal by Strasburg senior Martin Wiseley gave fellow senior Bub McKelvey the opportunity to convert a free throw, making it a four-point game with 12 seconds remaining.
Haley scored on the ensuing Wildcat possession, but the number :02, glowing a dull gold hue from the Strasburg scoreboard, meant it would be Strasburg which earned its third win of the season, not Warren County.
"It was a pretty high intensity there at the end," Strasburg coach Millson French said. "I thought [Warren County's] intensity was way up; I thought we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
"... We hung on by the skin of our teeth, but we'll take it. We'll take any kind of win we can get right now."
But for the game's first 16 minutes, Strasburg looked nothing like a team searching for an elusive third win. The Rams were aggressive yet technical on defense, and took precious care of a ball which had too often spilled into opponents' arms in previous games.
"We were feeling really good in the beginning of the game," Huttner said. "I don't know what it was: We were hitting everything, playing really well, thinking good."
Huttner scored 10 in the win, while McKelvey added 12. Strasburg senior Derek Buckley had a team-high 13 points, most of which came off a 3-for-4 performance from 3-point range in the third quarter.
But for whatever reason, whether it was a lackadaisical offensive outing, or Warren County's audacious full-court press, Strasburg scored only one field goal in the fourth quarter to Warren County's nine.
The Rams converted three of their final six free throws, though, to keep the Wildcats a hair's breadth away.
As for the Wildcats, at least they have something to build on, having played what head coach Vernon Mathews said was their best fourth quarter performance of the season.
"I'm real proud with the effort they showed," Mathews said. "We scored 11 points in the first half -- we played about as bad as we've played this year.
"I told them they have to come out and try to show what they're made of and give me everything they have, and they did that."