By Tommy Keeler Jr.
BERRYVILLE -- Clarke County wanted to make a statement on Tuesday night and they made it right from the start.
The Eagles and Warren County had played two close games earlier this season, but Clarke County made sure the third game was a little different. A fast start and tenacious defense led to a Clarke County 47-28 win over the Wildcats in the girls basketball Bull Run District tournament semifinals. The Eagles will play George Mason, a 49-31 winner over Strasburg, in today's final at Strasburg at 6 p.m.
In their first meeting, a 28-27 Warren County win on Jan. 10, the Eagles were without two players according to Clarke County coach Regina Downing. In the second meeting, a 48-39 Clarke County win on Jan. 20, Downing said her team started off slowly.
"Tonight it was all about revenge," Downing said. "We didn't like the fact that we lost the first time to them, and that we should have won. And we didn't like it that we played them so close [the second time]. We felt with what we're doing right now we're playing, basically, our best basketball right now. And we didn't think they could stay with what we had."
The Eagles raced out to a 9-0 lead, with Anna Blue Catlett and Allison Hicks combining for all of the points in the first four minutes of the game.
"The first four minutes determine the whole game," Warren County coach John Kelly said. "They were very physical. I think it knocked us back a little bit and got us very intimidated. It really set the tone for them for the rest of the game.
"They didn't come out that strong against us the last two times."
The Wildcats (13-9) were able to battle back. Back-to-back baskets by Autumn Troxell cut the lead to 13-6 at the end of the first period.
Warren County's Alesha Adams hit a jumper and made two free throws to cut the lead to 13-10 with 6:06 left in the first half.
The Eagles (19-2) used a 10-0 run to take a 23-10 lead with 2:11 left in the second period. Catlett had two 3-pointers against the Wildcats' 3-2 zone during the spurt.
"We did a pretty good job in the zone, but then they started hitting some shots," Kelly said.
Back-to-back baskets by Warren County's Paige McLachlan cut the lead to nine late in the first half.
The Eagles came out strong in the second half, led by their full-court press. The Wildcats turned the ball over on their first five possessions, and built the lead to 30-14 with 3:46 left in the third period.
Clarke County's leading scorer Sydney Chrane picked up her fourth foul with 2:29 left in the third period, giving the Wildcats some hope.
A basket and free throw by Adams and a basket by Vanessa Calevro cut the lead to 32-20 with 1:06 left in the third period.
Clarke County's Anna Bodkin and Kolby Parrott hit back-to-back baskets to close out the period. The Wildcats would get no closer than 14 the rest of the way. The Eagles got offensive production from players other than Catlett and Chrane and that made a big difference.
"We've been working on that," Downing said. "I've been preparing these kids to be a five-dimensional team, instead of a two-dimensional team and the kids are starting to play with confidence. We went down to Central [a 61-60 win on Jan. 30] with [Catlett and Chrane] sitting on the bench [in foul trouble] a great deal of time. The other kids bought into what we were doing, stepped up with some confidence, and ever since that game they're playing with a lot of confidence."
Catlett had a game-high 16 points, while Chrane added 13 for the Eagles.
The winner of today's Clarke County-George Mason game will not only win the tournament title, but also receive an automatic Region 2A East berth. The two teams split their regular season meetings.
"George Mason is a good team. They're a real good team," Downing said. "We're going to have to make some adjustments, just as well as they're going to have to makes some adjustments. I think we know each other pretty well. Each time we played each other, we kind of made some adjustments. It's going to come down to the defensive end."
Adams led the Wildcats with nine points.
Kelly said he thinks Warren County will host Skyline on Monday in the first round of the Conference 28 tournament.
"Doesn't really matter how many wins and losses you have -- it's a rival," Kelly said. "Whoever out-hustles the other team will win that game."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org