By Brad Fauber
STANARDSVILLE -- For one period in Tuesday night's Bull Run District tournament semifinal game at William Monroe High School, Strasburg had Warren County playing exactly how it wanted the Wildcats to.
Second-seeded Warren County, which usually thrives in a fast-paced offense, was lulled into a grind-it-out half-court game against the No. 3 Rams' man-to-man defense. It worked well for the Rams, as they held a one-point lead after the first quarter of play.
But the Wildcats found life in the second period, and Warren County did enough damage over the final three periods to earn a 48-36 win over Strasburg to advance to the tournament championship game.
"We kind of started out slow today. Usually when we get off to slow starts we understand that the next quarters we've got to come out strong," said Wildcats senior guard Jontae Rollins, who led Warren County with 17 points and seven steals. "We've got to stick to our game inside out, and when we do that it's pretty easy. Strasburg came out tougher than we thought, and they put on a good show."
Warren County will play at top-seeded William Monroe tonight for the tournament championship, with tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m., weather permitting. The game was moved up a day due to the impending snowstorm that is expected to hit the area later this evening.
Both Warren County (18-4) and Strasburg (16-8) were coming off hard-fought victories in the quarterfinal round on Monday, and the fatigue coupled with the long bus ride to Stanardsville made for a lethargic first period on Tuesday evening. The game went scoreless for nearly three minutes before Rams senior Tyler Doman hit a 3-pointer from the wing to give Strasburg an early lead.
The Wildcats finally got on the board when Rollins hit a midrange jumper near the baseline with 4:35 to play in the first period, and Rollins' 3-pointer with 1:50 left in the quarter gave Warren County a 5-3 lead.
Strasburg tied it on a stickback by senior Jonathan Kloosterman on its next possession, and the Rams took a 7-6 lead at the end of the first period following two made free throws by junior Ryan Smoot.
Both teams combined to hit just 4 of 18 shots in the opening period.
"We had them doing what we wanted them to do in the first quarter," Rams coach Matt Hiserman said. "We missed some shots. I didn't think we did a good job trying to challenge them in the post, other than Ryan [Smoot]."
Warren County found a spark to start the second period, as Rollins tallied two steals on the Rams' first two possessions that led to a pair of quick fast-break buckets on the other end. A third Wildcats basket in transition -- a pull-up jumper by senior Casey Stewart -- gave Warren County a 15-9 lead with 6:12 left in the second period.
"It changed the momentum. And I think that was all part of us not moving offensively," Hiserman said. "We were kind of just standing around waiting for something to happen. We didn't try to drive gaps. We didn't try to challenge them in any spot there early on. They were able to sit there on the defensive aspect of the ball and sag off like they play. It was just one of those nights where we just didn't have any flow offensively."
Warren County extended its lead to 19-11 with two minutes to play in the first half on a bucket inside by Rollins, but Strasburg cut its halftime deficit to 21-16 following a midrange jumper by Smoot at the buzzer.
Smoot continued to pull the Rams closer to open the third period, as he scored six straight points to cut Warren County's lead to 23-22 with 4:45 to play in the quarter. Smoot finished with 17 points for the Rams and was 9 for 11 from the free-throw line.
The Wildcats pushed its lead back to seven as they scored on three straight possessions, but the Rams cut it back to four points following two free throws by Smoot with 1:12 left. Stewart (11 points) then nailed a deep 3-pointer from the wing at the buzzer to give Warren County a 34-27 lead entering the fourth period.
Warren County extended its lead to 41-29 with a 7-2 run midway through the final period, and the Wildcats were able to maintain a 10-point lead for most of the frame.
"They're starting to all be grind-it-out games. They're all just going to be tighter and tighter and we're just going to have to figure out ways to take care of the ball at the end and finish games," Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said. "We've managed to do that the last two [games]."
Senior Blake Steele finished with 12 points for Warren County. Doman had nine points for Strasburg, while Kloosterman finished with eight points for the Rams.
Strasburg will host Madison County in the first round of the Conference 35 tournament next Monday.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD