By Robert Edmonds - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- A cross-town matchup turned into a proverbial slugfest Monday night when Warren County visited Randolph-Macon Academy in non-conference boys basketball action.
Neither team could manage to distance themselves from their opponent, nor was any lead secure until the final buzzer rang out in the Yellow Jackets gymnasium. The final exchange took place midway through the final period with the Wildcats taking the lead and, after some confusion in the final minutes of play, Warren County escaped with a 57-53 victory.
"I think both teams played a great game tonight," Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said. "R-MA is a good team and they played us tough. They forced us into some turnovers and they outrebounded us, but despite that our kids kept battling. It was good for us as a team to get this win."
Tied at halftime, the Wildcats landed the first blow of the second half when Austin King connected from behind the arc for a 3-point basket. Teammate Blake Steele then recorded a steal in the backcourt and scored on a layup to extend the lead.
After a basket from R-MA's Carson Holder on a stick back, Clyde Ritchie hit a 3-pointer and the Wildcats quickly had a six-point lead.
"I'm not afraid to say it, I think Carson is one of the best rebounders in the area," Yellow Jackets coach Clay Clinedinst said. "He has played against some big kids and he can hold his own. He is getting double-digit rebounds all the time."
R-MA quickly erased the deficit behind Andre Lake. The guard twice penetrated the Wildcats' defense for baskets in the paint. Moments later, Marcus Williams tied the game when he scored on an offensive rebound, but failed to grab the lead after being fouled when he missed the free-throw attempt.
"We have to be smarter and stick to the way we do things," Clinedinst said. "There is nothing wrong with the way we are playing, but we try too hard to keep up with the speed of the other team and that hurts us. We need to play our game. Despite that, we battled hard and stayed in this game, giving us a chance.
Warren took the lead again to end the third quarter, but R-MA once again bounced back. Trailing 46-42, Holder scored on an assist from Mark Acevedo-Soto and then a 3-pointer by KJ Graham gave the Yellow Jackets a brief lead.
On the Wildcats' next possession, Shivam Mehta hit a 3-pointer, but again R-MA responded to tie the game at 49 when Williams scored on a transition play under the basket. With play moving at a frantic pace, Warren wasted little time to push the ball back down the court and Mehta hit another 3-pointer, this time giving Warren the lead for good.
"We have had different guys step up for us at different times," Mathews said. "Shivam [Mehta] had a big game for us Saturday with 18 points and he had some big baskets again for us tonight. Blake [Steele] missed our last game and it was good to have him back on the floor, and he made some big plays on offense and defense for us tonight."
Warren extended the lead to four entering the final minute of play. While the Wildcats attempted to run a delay offense, the Yellow Jackets sent pressure in hopes of forcing a turnover. R-MA did come up with the turnover, but couldn't manage to find the bottom of the basket to draw any closer.
Both teams appeared to be in some disarray before the final seconds ticked off the clock, preserving the win for Warren while R-MA dropped another close one.
"We were trying to play their pace and keep up with them and that kind of got things out of whack for us," Clinedinst said. "Instead of slowing things down and running our offense, we kept pushing and I think that wore us down some. We have been improving as a team and the way we are playing now, we are staying in games, but we have to learn to finish."