By Robert Edmonds - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Both host Warren County and Central looked to start off their girls basketball season in the win column on Wednesday night, but only one could prevail.
In the end, the more experienced Falcons were able to pull together and notch a victory as they held off the Wildcats, 61-33.
"I think the biggest difference in the game was our team settling in during the second [quarter] and getting shots to fall that were not early in the game," Falcons coach Stephanie Mathews said. "We were making good decisions on offense and our defense was getting after them from the start, but we finally started connecting in the second half."
Despite the final score, the Wildcats stayed in the game for much of the first half as they used a 2-3 zone to pressure Central and force challenged shots that could not find the bottom of the bucket.
"We have a young team and we have to work on our fundamentals," Wildcats coach John Kelly said. "I think we did a great job in the first half playing defense. We were moving around and challenging shots."
Initially, both teams struggled from the field, which was to be expected as they shook off the long off-season rust. The two teams combined shot 2 of 29 in the first period on field goal attempts as Warren led 7-6 after one.
As the second period got under way, both teams seemed to begin to find their stroke. Brenna Cook connected on a 3-pointer for the Falcons, while Autumn Troxell added four points of her own for the Wildcats.
The biggest difference early on and a contributing factor to the night's outcome came at the free-throw line. While each team saw its fair share of attempts from the line, Central took advantage as the Falcons built a five-point lead at the break.
"One of the things at the top of our board tonight was foul shooting," Kelly said. "We knew that was important and we didn't do a very good job. That is going to be the bulk of our practice tomorrow, foul shooting and boxing out."
The Falcons were 14 of 17 from the foul line as Warren struggled, connecting on 4 of 13 in the first half.
Central continued a full-court press that it had implemented early as the second half began. At times, Warren was able to break through the pressure but found it difficult to finish as the Wildcats missed high-percentage shots under the basket.
"We came out flat-footed to start the second half and they hit three 3s, and that made a big difference," Kelly said. "In the zone, you have to step out and challenge and we just stopped moving, and that gave them some open looks at the basket."
The Wildcats' struggles, combined with the Falcons finding the hot hand in the second quarter, allowed Central to pull away quickly in the third. Central made three 3-pointers in the third, one each from Cook, Ashley Jernigan and Theresa Barela.
Central outscored Warren 21-6 in the period to build a dominant lead and the Falcons continued to cruise into the final period. As foul trouble late in the game gave the two teams more opportunities from the foul line, once again the Falcons took advantage. Central connected on 31 foul shot attempts for the game, compared to just 11 for the Wildcats.
"We know we have work to do, but I have seen improvement in this team since the first day of practice," Mathews said. "We know we have to work hard and play as a team, and it was pleasing tonight because I feel this was a total team effort."