By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- As his team ran onto the court for warm-ups, Damien Caison could sense something wasn't right. Despite the tip-off being just a few minutes away, Caison noticed his teammates weren't completely focused.
"When we were in warm-ups, this was our second game without having a school day, and it also happened against Luray where we came out and we weren't really playing as well as we could," he said. "This game we were joking around in the first set of warm-ups and on the bus, everybody's laughing and giggling, and when we got into the locker room I tried to say something and Coach [Vernon] Mathews came in and said, 'If you guys aren't ready to play in 10 minutes, they're going to jump out on us.'"
The players failed to heed their coach's advice, however, as Warren County couldn't overcome an early 14-point hole and fell to Broadway, 64-36, in the Daily Classic semifinals on Saturday. The Gobblers used a 21-7 first quarter run to coast to the double-digit win.
"We didn't play well in any phase of the game," Mathews said. "We had a period there late in the first quarter when we started playing a little bit better with the zone and started getting better shots, but really there's no phase of the game where we played well."
As far as the team's mentality before the game, Caison said he noticed the relaxed attitude on the team bus ride, where players were joking around with each other. That didn't bother the senior, however, who said he "wants the team to be relaxed and ready to play." But the joking mentality carried over during warm-ups and eventually into the start of the game.
From the opening tip it seemed Broadway had an extra bounce in its step, as junior guard Chris Knight controlled the offense and led his team with 17 points. While the Wildcats had trouble stopping the Gobblers on defense, turnovers were the constant struggle on offense. Warren County committed 22 turnovers, seven of which came in the first quarter, contributing to the early deficit.
"It was the turnovers," Mathews said of his team's offensives woes. "Their press is pretty hard, but we're getting to the point in the season where we should be doing a lot better against pressure. I think guys were getting frustrated and were trying to do it all themselves. When we [were] turning the ball over, they were off and running."
After getting an early wake-up call in the first quarter, the Wildcats buckled down in the second quarter, limiting the Gobblers to just 10 points while Warren County's offense tried to cut away at the lead, heading into halftime trailing, 31-18.
In the second half, any progress made by the Wildcats to close out the second quarter was gone. Broadway increased its lead to 15 by the end of the third quarter, and forced 13 of its 22 turnovers in the second half. Warren County could never recover from its first-quarter lull, despite junior forward Logan Hibbs' six points from behind the arc and senior Jon Roof's six points.
"They came out a lot stronger than us," Roof said. "You could tell during warm-ups we weren't ready. We were kind of joking around. We need to start focusing before the games and come out stronger."
Strasburg and Warren County will play in a consolation game on Tuesday at 6 p.m., followed by the championship game between Broadway and Luray at 8 p.m.
After the game Mathews said he didn't need to tell his players they played poorly, and declared this to be a game where "you simply move forward." As for the players' mentality, both Roof and Caison said the pre-game attitude has to improve in the future. Knowing the team was not fully prepared to play made the losses even more frustrating.
"It's frustrating, yeah," Roof said. "But we're going to practice hard, make sure we come out more serious, and we're going to work hard to be ready for Tuesday."