By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County lost the rebound battle and shot less than 35 percent from the field, but the Wildcats held a decisive advantage in turnover ratio on Wednesday night against visiting Randolph-Macon Academy.
The Wildcats' full-court pressure defense, which focuses heavily on in-your-face ball pressure and traps, forced the Yellow Jackets into 29 turnovers. Warren County committed just 11 turnovers all evening, and that was a deciding factor in the Wildcats' 67-51 win.
"We're happy to come out with a win, especially the way we played tonight," Wildcats senior Matt Nicholson said. "We got out-rebounded and our shots weren't falling, so it was pretty lucky to come out with a win tonight.
"Our press gave them a lot of trouble. Our defense helps us out when our shots aren't falling, and that's what kept us in it."
The Yellow Jackets (2-4) held a 43-32 rebounding edge over Warren County (3-3), including a 29-15 advantage on the boards in the first half.
Warren County's offense, which utilizes a frenetic pace and a lot of 3-point shots, struggled mightily to find its stroke from long range. The Wildcats hit just 11 of 48 (22.9 percent) shots from beyond the 3-point arc, and finished with a combined 25-for-77 (32.5 percent) effort from the field.
This is the first season that Warren County has used the fast-paced style of offense, and Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said there will be nights like Wednesday when the shots don't fall. In those cases, the defense will be called upon to win games.
"Some nights we'll shoot well, some nights we'll shoot average and some nights we'll shoot bad," Mathews said. "Our defense has to be the constant."
R-MA kept things tight in the opening quarter and took the lead four different times in the opening eight minutes. The Yellow Jackets broke a 12-all tie with a bucket in the paint by senior guard Andre Lake, and junior forward Carson Holden added a pair of free throws to give R-MA a 16-12 lead with 2:20 left in the first period.
But Warren County ended the frame on 10-0 run to take a 22-16 lead after one period.
The Wildcats then quickly extended the lead to 34-18 early in the second period as the Yellow Jackets turned the ball over on five of their first seven possessions. Holden scored on a put-back that should have made the score 34-22 with 4:08 remaining before halftime, but the points were never awarded on the scoreboard. R-MA played two points short for the rest of the contest.
The Yellow Jackets managed just two more buckets over the final four minutes of the half and found themselves trailing 38-24 at the break.
"We don't play as a team. There are points in the game where we do play as a team, and we get some things to happen," Yellow Jackets coach Clay Clinedinst said. "For whatever reason that just disappears and it becomes an individualized game."
Warren County erupted early in the second half and scored on five of its first seven possessions of the third period. Nicholson, Joey Catalani and Kris Deal each hit 3-pointers during a 13-5 Wildcat run to give Warren County a 51-29 lead.
The Wildcats took a 54-33 lead into the fourth period, and matched their largest lead of the night when Joshua Owens knocked down a shot in the paint to give Warren County a 58-35 lead with 6:38 to play.
Nicholson led the Wildcats with 14 points, and Catalani and Shivam Mehta each added 10 points apiece for Warren County. Holden was a force inside for R-MA, scoring 18 points. Chris Rowe had 13 points for the Yellow Jackets, and Seong Wook Hong added 10 points.
Mathews said the Wildcats are still getting used to the new offensive scheme, and Warren County can expect to have some more nights where the offense may not look as sharp as they would like.
"Some nights it clicks better than others," Mathews said. "We're finally learning that everything is going to come in streaks. When we're on then we're going to go on a run, and then sometimes we hit a cold spell and the other team is going to go on a run.
"We just have to adjust to that."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com