By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- Warren County and Central certainly hoped for an extensive workout in their season-opening, nondistrict boys basketball game Tuesday evening.
Also certain was that neither squad expected just how extensive the engagement would become, as the outcome wasn't settled until the third overtime, with the Wildcats using a considerable free-throw shooting advantage to survive with a 78-71 victory.
Warren County was 24-for-36 on free throws, while Central was 9-for-21.
The Falcons looked like the more experienced and confident squad in taking a 17-7 first-quarter lead, with sophomore guard Travis Cooper dumping in nine points and classmate Kolton Poston contributing four points, one bucket coming off an offensive rebound.
But the Wildcats closed the gap in each succeeding quarter, outscoring Central 13-8, 19-16, and 17-15, to send the game into overtime.
With 12.7 seconds left on the game clock in regulation, the Falcons took a timeout. On the inbounds play, Cooper worked off the right-side baseline and got open beyond the arc off the elbow and drained a 3-pointer with six ticks reaming to gain a 56-56 tie, and time expired before the Wildcats could get the ball across the half-court line, sending the contest into the first four-minute overtime period.
"I think we really played well as a team, we're just not really healthy yet, but we're coming together and we're gonna learn from this," said Cooper, who had 30 points. "We need to take better care of the ball and work on some free throws.
"You kinda have to change your game up when you get into overtime, because your body really starts to get worn out, and you can't do the things you did earlier. You have to find more ways to score, and it gets more challenging."
Matt Nicholson put the Wildcats on the board first in the first overtime by sinking two free throws, then the Falcons continued their 3-pointer attack with Eric Semones making his only basket of the evening, followed by Sean Semones making two free throws to give Central a 61-58 lead with 12.6 seconds on the clock.
Nicholson, who had 14 points, then showed his own poise by arcing in a 3-pointer from the left wing as time expired, earning a second four minutes of overtime with a 61-61 tie.
All of the scoring in the second overtime was done from the foul line, with seniors Sam Catalani and Dakota Pratscher each going 2-for-2 for the Wildcats, while Cooper went 2-for-3 and Poston went 2-for-2, to create a 65-65 tie.
"We knew we had to come out and play defense -- that was most important," said Dakota Pratscher, who had a team-high 24 points. "[Travis Cooper's] a great player and we focused on him a lot, and on the other shooter [Ricky Neff], who, unfortunately got hurt.
"Defense was our top priority. We knew our offense was going to come because early in the game we got good shots that just weren't falling I kept telling them, 'our shots are gonna' fall, just keep shooting it and don't worry about it.'"
In the third overtime, the Wildcats reeled off nine points on field goals by Catalani and Justin Prince, as Pratscher put back an offensive rebound and went 2-for-2 again from the charity stripe, and Ryan Tierney made one free throw.
The Falcons managed only a layup by Sean Semones, as Warren County took a 74-67 lead with 1:04 remaining.
The rest of the way, Central was forced to foul the Wildcats, who converted five of their 10 opportunities.
"There's no special strategy [for multiple overtimes]," Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said. "We closed it up at the end. When Central had to make big plays, they did, and we were able to answer them. I told the kids, once we got to the first overtime we had kinda accomplished what I wanted to do in the first game, which is go out and battle and go deep into the game.
"We were down, at one point, I think 12 or 13 points, and I just kept telling them to plug away, and we stayed focused and some of our shots started going in. I couldn't be more proud of the kids."