Wildcats survive second-half slump

By Brad Fauber

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County girls basketball coach John Kelly can’t quite pinpoint the cause, but the Wildcats have struggled in the second half of games this season.

Those second-half woes continued on Wednesday night against Bull Run District foe Madison County, as Warren County mustered just three field goals over the final two quarters. Luckily for the Wildcats, Madison County suffered from a poor shooting performance of its own, and Warren County’s 15-point halftime lead held up in a 37-23 win.

“We come out really, really slow to start the second half. It’s kind of our Achilles heel,” Kelly said. “Our go-to girls need to step up early in the third quarter for us, and that will get us rolling more on offense. That seems to be our issue.”

Warren County (3-3, 3-1 Bull Run) hit just 11 of 48 (22.9 percent) shots on Wednesday, including a 3-for-23 mark from the field in the second half. But Madison County (3-3, 2-3) was even more inconsistent, as the Mountaineers managed to hit just 8 of 41 (19.5 percent) from the floor.

Much of Madison County’s struggle had to do with the Wildcats’ defense, which began using a box-and-1 on Mountaineers guard Chandler Gentry in the second quarter after the senior tallied a pair of 3-pointers early in the first quarter.

Gentry’s six points, which came in the first three minutes of the game, helped Madison County stay close with the Wildcats after the first period, despite a nine-point opening frame for Warren County senior Alesha Adams.

Warren County led 11-9 after the first eight minutes, but the Wildcats’ switch to the box-and-1 held the Mountaineers without a field goal in the second quarter. Madison County’s lone point in the period came via a free throw by freshman forward Sierra Smith with four minutes left until halftime, and Warren County took advantage by extending its lead to 25-10 at the break.

“We had prepped for it some yesterday knowing that [Gentry] is a good outside shooter,” Kelly said of the box-and-1. “We had prepped for it, but we weren’t hoping to go to it. We wanted to see what would happen, but she got really hot early on then we put Jordyn Beckner on her. Jordyn shut her down as much as she could, frustrated her.”

Gentry (team-high 12 points) found some breathing room early in the second half, as she hit two more 3-pointers to cut Warren County’s lead to 27-16 with 5:40 left in the third period. Gentry’s second 3-pointer in the quarter put her over the 1,000-point mark for her career.

Madison County further cut into the lead when Grace Estes’ baseline jumper cut Warren County’s lead to nine, but Adams’ free throw with 2:09 left in the third quarter gave the Wildcats a 10-point cushion going into the final period as both teams stayed cold from the field.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well, and turned the ball over more than we should’ve,” said Mountaineers coach Katherine Johnson, whose team turned the ball over 23 times in the loss. “But they were big and we didn’t adjust to the size very well.

“We’ve got a couple young big kids that can score, they just don’t have the confidence right now. Some nights they’ll score, they’re just unpredictable.”

Warren County opened the final quarter with a bucket on a putback by Beckner (9 points), and the Mountaineers briefly cut the Wildcats’ lead back to eight points on back-to-back jumpers by Maayke Gaunt. But Adams hit two free throws with 5:32 to put Warren County back up by 10, and the Wildcats slowly extended the lead over the final four minutes.

Adams finished with a game-high 15 points to go along with five rebounds, three blocks and three steals to lead Warren County.

Smith finished with three points and nine rebounds for the Mountaineers.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com