By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- William Monroe's game plan against Warren County was to slow down Blake Steele and Casey Stewart, the Wildcats' top two scorers. The plan worked perfectly for the Dragons.
William Monroe led from start to finish and used a big run to start the second half to pull out a 45-30 Bull Run District boys basketball win over the Wildcats on Saturday.
"You can't let [Blake] Steele get going," William Monroe coach Mike Maynard said. "We tried to trap him every time he caught the ball. We did a pretty good job with that. I think this was the best defensive effort we've had all year. Keegan Wolford is my best defensive player. He did the best job he could on [Casey] Stewart - he's one helluva player -- and a tough task following him. But we did a prety good job following the assignments."
The Dragons held the lead the entire first period, but the Wildcats hung with them. Two baskets by Stewart kept Warren County within two points, 10-8 with 3:39 left.
Steele then picked up his second foul with 2:52 left in the first period and had to sit for the rest of the period.
After the teams traded free throws, William Monroe freshman Anthony Terry came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer and a jumper to help give the Dragons a 14-9 lead after the first period.
In the second period, 6-foot-4 center Jeff Early scored six points to help the Dragons take a 24-14 lead with 1:25 left in the first half. The Wildcats responded with a free throw by Ethan Greiner and a 3-pointer by Shivam Mehta to cut the lead to 24-18 at the half.
The Dragons then took control of the game with a 10-0 run to start the third period. Five different players scored during the run.
"They hit a couple buckets at the end of the second quarter, so we thought they had the momentum," Maynard said. "We wanted to follow our defensive game plan. They're a very good team."
While the Dragons were scoring, the Wildcats were struggling on offense. The Wildcats missed their first 10 shots of the third period. Warren County shot 30.2 percent (13-for-43) from the field, and only 1-for-11 from 3-point range in the contest.
"I thought we got some decent looks, our shots just didn't fall," Warren County coach Vernon Mathews said. "At least some of that credit goes to them. They're a very good defensive team."
Back-to-back steals and layups by Jontae Rollins helped cut the lead to 34-24 with 10 seconds left in the third period, but the Wildcats trailed by double digits the rest of the game.
Early and the Dragons were able to cause problems for Steele, who finished with four points and seven rebounds.
"Obviously, they did a really good job taking Blake [Steele] out of the game," Mathews said. "Not that Blake didn't have a good game, but he didn't get the ball where he's used to getting it. And that's a lot of credit to them."
Early led the Dragons with 15 points and nine rebounds, and Terry had 11 points.
The win moves the Dragons into a tie for first place with the Wildcats (10-2, 6-1 Bull Run). William Monroe lost its top two scorers from last season, but Maynard said the team has adjusted well.
"It was a whole learning curve. We're learning how to play without [last year's top scorers]," Maynard said. "We're more defensive oriented this year. Each possession is way more important this year. Obviously, we're throwing the ball into the post a lot this year."
Rollins led the Wildcats with 11 points, while Stewart had nine.
The loss snapped the Wildcats' nine game-win streak, and Mathews said the team needs to bounce back from it.
"We just can't let this performance today carry on and get in our heads," Mathews said. "It's a good wake-up call for us."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd