By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL --Warren County started off strong in its rivalry game against Skyline on Saturday -- and the lead was enough to pick up a key win.
The Wildcats held off a furious Skyline rally for a 44-40 non-district victory.
The win avenged a 53-41 loss to the Hawks on Dec. 20, the last time the Wildcats had played.
"We attacked the basket a lot more [than in the previous meeting]," Warren County coach John Kelly said. "That was the game plan. We knew going in that [Skyline coach Jim Kenney's] goal was to shut [Warren County senior] Alesha [Adams] down so the other players had to step up. And Autumn [Troxell] really did. Autumn had a great game. She shot the ball well inside."
Troxell gave the Wildcats a big boost early in the game. She scored the Wildcats' first eight points to help give them a 10-2 lead in the first period.
Skyline missed its first 12 shots. Kenney said the slow start has been a recurring problem.
"We just have to figure out what we're doing in that first half," Kenney said. "I got to figure out a way to get these girls ready to play at the first tip."
Adams scored six of her game-high 15 points in the second period to help extend the lead to 22-10 at the half.
The Hawks (2-8) responded in the second half, especially on the offensive end. Kelly said Warren County used a triangle-and-two on Skyline leading scorer Shayne Clifton and both Quinn Breeden and Jenny Norman, focusing on whichever of the two had the hot hand.
With their top three scorers limited, Skyline had another player step up -- sophomore guard Mikaela Dawkins.
"She's just a gifted athlete," Kenney said of Dawkins, who was out most of the season due to injury. "She's one of those athletes that it doesn't matter what sport she's playing, she can pretty much step in and compete. She's just a gifted athlete. I thought she did some really good things for us."
The Wildcats (4-4, 3-1 Bull Run) extended their lead to 14 early in the third period, before Dawkins helped key 16-7 run. She had six points during the spurt.
A 3-pointer by Dawkins cut the lead to 35-31 with 7:32 left in the game.
"I got a little nervous, when [Dawkins] hit a couple three's," Kelly said. "It put a little sweat in the brows."
The Hawks missed their next six shots, while the Wildcats had a couple turnovers. Warren County finally broke through with a driving layup by Jordyn Beckner with 5:07 left. Two free throws by Dawkins cut the lead to 37-33, but a driving layup by Troxell and a basket by Adams off a Troxell assist stretched the lead to 41-33 with 3:32 left in the game.
"We got some good turnovers, but we just didn't convert them," Kenney said. "We missed some wide open layups. jump shots. It just absolutely kills you when you're in a tight game like this."
Dawkins finished with 13 points and two assists to lead the Hawks. Clifton had seven points and 10 rebounds.
Even though the game was not a district game, both teams are in Conference 28 and could see each other again in the tournament next month. Kenney said he thinks his team will continue to get better this season.
"We're going to be a force to be reckoned with, I think, in Conference 28 by the time that tournament rolls around."
Troxell had 14 points for the Wildcats. Warren County plays at George Mason and Clarke County, the top teams in the district standings, this week.
"You got to play your best against them," Kelly said of the two contests. "This might be out toughest tests this season, this week, and I think were ready for it. I think we are starting to click a little."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd