By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- John Kelly, coach and prophet?
"If we can keep making sure our 'A' team shows up, we'll be OK," said Kelly, Warren County's girls basketball coach, after the Wildcats' first-ever win over Skyline, on Jan. 4.
After Alesha Adams opened Tuesday night's Evergreen District tournament semifinal contest with a field goal and a 3-pointer, it looked like the No. 1 seed Warren County had its "B-minus" team on the court for most of the first half, falling behind by eight points to N. 4 seed Kettle Run midway into second quarter.
Then the Wildcats (14-8) found their 'A' team with an eight-point run to close out the half with a tie, and started the second half with an 8-2 run and put the hammer down to earn a 56-38 win.
The Wildcats, who won their first district regular season championship since 1978 with a victory over Brentsville last week, will look to win the tournament title as well on Thursday night.
The Cougars (7-15) found it easy going against Warren County's porous first-half defense as sophomore guard Kiana Walker poured in nine points and junior forward Hannah Small added four tallies.
Then the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run, with two field goals each by starter Autumn Troxell and Lauren Woodrell off the bench to reach an 18-18 tie at halftime.
Adams started the scoring again with a deuce to open the second half, and Troxell stayed on target, cashing in two more field goals and a 2-for-2 trip to the foul line, fueling an 8-2 run to give Warren County a 26-20 lead.
Adams added two more field goals, as did Alyson Fox, and the Wildcats adjusted their zone to back off a full-court press in favor of setting up at three-quarters court and half-court, and they outscored Kettle Run 19-10 in the third quarter to take a 37-28 lead.
"We were playing entirely too comfortable [in the first half]," Kelly said. "Our goal is to play with energy. Having won 10 of 12 games, they have that comfort level, but you have to play with energy every night.
"We changed our press look at half court and that hurt them an awful lot. We forced them to change their half-court setting, and we're taller, so it gave them trouble."
Warren County repeated its success, also taking the fourth quarter by a 19-10 margin, with Troxell adding five points in the final frame to finish with 16 points and nine rebounds.
"Coach [Kelly] just told us to calm down," Troxell said. "In the beginning we started off slow but after we talked, we calmed ourselves down and started passing and dribbling and working as a team. The passes really set me and my teammates up for shots and we really started clicking."
Adams added four points, going 4-for-4 at the free-throw line, to finish with a game-high 18 points.
"[In the first half] We just knew this was a big game and we had to step it up because we want to get to the championship," Adams said. "We picked each other up and it came together in the end."
Walker led Kettle Run with 11 points.
Warren County's defense forced 21 Kettle Run turnovers, while the Wildcats committed only 13.
The victory extends the Wildcats' winning streak to seven games, and makes them 11-2 since the winter holidays break, in a span of success ignited by that win over Skyline.
Warren County has held opponents to an average of 28.7 points per game, while scoring an average of 49.9 per game during the current winning streak.
"Alesha [Adams] has been averaging about 18, and Autumn [Troxell] about 14 over the last several games," Kelly said. "That's deadly force."
The Wildcats will host the winner of tonight's Fauquier vs. Brentsville District semifinal in the tournament final on Thursday night.