By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- As her team headed to the locker room following Wednesday's game, Brianna Caison wasn't focused on the final score. Her team had lost, but the Warren County freshman couldn't help but feel good, believing in terms of improvement, her team was the real winner.
"It doesn't feel [like a loss]," Caison said after Warren County fell to Luray, 38-30. "It feels like, I know we lost with the scoreboard, but I really feel like we gained more than the other team gained so I figured that as a win."
In its previous seven games this season, Warren County had yet to earn a win, and had failed to even finish a game within single digits of an opponent. But facing a pesky Bulldogs team, the Wildcats took control early on, limiting their turnovers on offense, while keeping Luray to just 12 points in the first quarter.
In the second quarter both team's defenses buckled down, allowing a combined 10 points and giving up just two field goals in the quarter. But despite the lack of points on the scoreboard, the Wildcats' offense began to do something it hadn't done all season. For the first time, Warren County's offense controlled the tempo, executed designed plays and most importantly, kept the ball away from the Luray defense.
"I thought we actually played 32 minutes of good basketball and that was nice to see," Warren County coach John Kelly said. "I thought we cut our turnovers down a heck of a lot and I think we did a nice job of controlling the ball. We were able to do more things on offense that I thought threw [Luray] off in the first half and in the third quarter."
Heading into the second half, the Bulldogs held onto an 18-10 lead, but quickly saw it cut in half midway through the third quarter. Caison began to become more aggressive on offense, using a jump stop to penetrate the defense and either shoot from underneath the hoop, or find an open teammate on the perimeter. Her strategy helped her pick up six of her 14 points in the third and fourth quarters, but with the referees sometimes calling her for a travel, it's a move that's high risk and high reward.
"Sometimes [it's effective]," Caison said. "It depends on how I land because sometimes they do call it a travel, but when I don't travel, as long as I finish it's effective."
As the fourth quarter got underway, the Wildcats still found themselves trailing, 26-22. Warren County's offense, which scored a total of 25 in its previous game against Broadway, kept its play consistent throughout the final quarter, converting on four field goals and giving up just five turnovers. Despite the offensive improvement, it wasn't enough to surpass the Bulldogs, as Luray, led by point guard Emily Heiston, who finished with 12 points, closed the door on any comeback attempt with four points in the final minute to give them the victory.
After the game Kelly gathered his players in the middle of the auxiliary gym in the next room, and sat them down for his post-game speech. The Wildcats had lost, but he wasn't upset. Instead, Kelly told his players this would be the start of the rest of their season, and despite the result in the boxscore, his team came out as winners.
"That's what we talked about," Kelly said. "We thought we played good, controlled basketball. I thought we controlled that game for three quarters and overall I thought we played very, very well."