By Dennis Atwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
Sophomore guard Autumn Troxell came up big when the chips were down, scoring Warren County's last seven points in the final 3:12 as the Wildcats withstood a furious rally by Luray to win the Strasburg Tip-Off Tournament championship, 38-37, on Saturday night.
Having scored only seven, four, and nine points, respectively, in the first three quarters, Luray poured in 17 in the final frame and came within an eyelash of pulling out the win, missing two shot attempts in the final 10 seconds.
Bulldogs junior guard Sable Ponn also stepped up at crunch time, to score 10 of her game-high 16 points in the fourth frame.
Overcoming Luray's floor shooting woes, Ponn went 8-for-10 from the free-throw line, and put in a field-goal to lead the Bulldogs' rally.
Troxell, who had a team-high 13 points, dumped in a layup to give the Wildcats a 34-29 lead with 2:42 on the game clock, then missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity at 1:50.
Ponn went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line, then stole the ball on the Wildcats' next possession and went 2-for-2 on another trip to the line to cut the deficit to two points.
Ponn came up with another steal (game-high five), then fed Adrian Henry for an assist on a game-tying layup with 1:22 remaining to play.
After Troxell netted a five-footer, Katelyn Keyser drained a 3-pointer with 50 seconds remaining in the contest to put the Bulldogs up, 37-36, for their first lead since early in the second quarter.
Ten seconds later, Troxell answered with a six-footer to give Warren County (2-2) a 38-37 lead.
Luray (2-1) had two more chances to pull out a victory, but Ponn's layup attempt at 10 seconds to go rimmed out. Then, after Alesha Adams missed the front end of a one-and-one foul-shooting opportunity for Warren County, Keyser missed a 12-footer from the left baseline and Adams grabbed the rebound to seal the Wildcats' tournament championship win.
"In those last time outs, normally I'm like, shaking and all nervous, and my team calmed me down and said, 'You can do this, just clear your head, and play the game you need to play," the 6-foot-1 Troxell said.
"So I just cleared my mind, and I guess it came naturally. I just needed to turn that way and I just got lucky as it came down to the end."
The squads each scored seven points in the first quarter, and Luray took an 11-9 lead with 6:51 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs then suffered a scoring drought for the remainder of the frame, while Troxell sank the Wildcats' only 3-pointer on the night and Adams (11 points for the game) and Lauren Woodrell put in short-range baskets to give Warren County a 16-11 lead at halftime.
The teams went nose-to-nose in the third quarter, which ended with the Wildcats holding a 26-20 lead.
With three starters 6-feet tall or more and two at 5-foot-11, the Wildcats not only have a rebounding edge over most opponents, but also use that extra wingspan to make their zone defense more effective, which had a lot to do with Luray's shooting woes. Warren County edged Luray, 20-16, in rebounding.
"We knew [Luray] was a good outside shooting team, so in practice we mainly focused on stopping the outside shot and getting our defense down," Troxell said. "Once we did that, we knew our offense would come naturally.
"Our defense shut down the Rams [5-for-52 shooting, in a 33-16 first-round win over Strasburg]. We're a tall team, so our arm span, moving our feet well, and covering the baseline makes for good defense."
The Bulldogs managed only 12-for-51 (23.5 percent) on field goals, going 9-for-33 (27.3 percent) on two-pointers and 3-for-18 (16.7 percent) from beyond the arc.
"We executed in the fourth quarter and the girls played hard, but the shots just didn't fall tonight," Luray coach Chris Ponn said. "We shot about 18 percent from the floor. You're not gonna win many games like that. Hats off to Warren County. They came out ready to play, and they played hard, too.
"We got back in the game, but a couple of air balls on shots we normally make, we just did not make tonight."
That gap-closing defense and sharp shooting helped Warren County overcome 25 turnovers (12 traveling calls) to 16 by the Bulldogs.
The Wildcats shot a stellar 14-for-25 (56 percent) inside the arc, and 1-for-4 on 3-pointers for a combined 51.7 percent from the floor.
It was a significantly different outcome from Luray's 63-30 drubbing of Warren County in the season opener for both teams.
"We had a very fundamentally strong team last year, but in our first two games of this season we turned the ball over too much," Wildcats coach John Kelly said. "We weren't boxing out. In the last two games we put an emphasis on boxing out and unforced turnovers, and it showed up.
"We played under control, and, for most of the game, except for a minute and one-half, we controlled the tempo. [In the season opener] they pushed the ball a lot. They are a good team with very up-tempo offense, and I didn't see that tonight."
Troxell, Adams, Ponn and Keyser were named to the all-tournament team, along with James Woods' Brooke Nesselrodt.
James Wood defeated Strasburg, 48-25, in the consolation game.