Warren County holds off Clarke County

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County’s boys basketball team hasn’t had many chances to close out a tight game so far this season. The Wildcats did just enough to do that against visiting Clarke County on Monday night.

The Wildcats misfired on an unnecessarily quick shot with a lead late in the fourth quarter and committed what could’ve been a costly technical foul with 30 seconds remaining, but Warren County’s defense held tough and didn’t allow the Eagles to take advantage in the Wildcats’ 58-54 Bull Run District win.

“Obviously we haven’t had a chance to try to close out a game at the end. This is our first one where we were actually in the lead, so it was a learning process for us,” said Wildcats head coach Vernon Mathews, whose team improved to 2-7 with the win. “Luckily for us they missed some free throws and we were able to get some rebounds. We finally hit some there at the end.”

In a game where both teams shot above 45 percent from the floor, it was Warren County’s defense that arguably made the biggest difference down the stretch. The Wildcats forced eight turnovers in the final period, doubling Clarke County’s turnover total from the first three quarters combined.

“We had great matchups, actually,” said Warren County sophomore Cameron Ford, who had four steals and five rebounds to go along with his team-high 17 points. “We knew we could match their speed, we could match their size. We were smart. We could front everyone, we could get around them. No one could overpower us.”

Warren County (2-4 Bull Run) held a 39-38 lead entering the fourth period, but saw that lead reversed when Eagles’ sophomore Hunter Rogers (14 points) connected on his fourth 3-pointer of the night with 6:55 to play.

The Wildcats then responded with a 7-0 run, as senior D’andre Lawrence scored a pair of buckets followed by Robert Rutherford’s 3 from the wing that gave Warren County a 46-41 lead with 5:05 left.

Clarke County (3-5, 2-4 Bull Run) committed two turnovers during the spurt.

“We struggled tonight with our guard play. We couldn’t get into an offense consistently,” Eagles head coach Brent Emmart said. “We panicked at the end of the game and I didn’t do a good job of coaching the guys up tonight, putting them in the best possible position to succeed. This is kind of on me as a coach. I should’ve done something defensively and offensively to change the complexion of the game.”

Another Clarke County 3 — this one from Brett McDonald — cut the Wildcats’ lead back to two points, and the Eagles tied the game at 48-all on Sean McDonald’s bucket in the paint with two minutes to play.

Warren County then countered with a decisive five-point run. Junior point guard Clyde Ritchie hit a pull-up jumper in transition and, following an Eagles turnover, Lawrence drove the lane and kicked a pass out to a wide-open Ford, who sank his fourth 3 of the game to give the Wildcats a 53-48 lead with 1:21 to play.

“[The defender] stepped up on me and [Ford’s] defender just came and tried to double cover me. I saw Cam open so I just kicked it to him and he hit the 3,” said Lawrence, who finished with 12 points for the Wildcats. “I knew when he hit that 3 that the game was probably over.”

A free throw by Rutherford gave Warren County a six-point lead, but the Wildcats nearly made a critical mistake with 26 seconds remaining as Ford tried to call a timeout when his team had none remaining.

Sean McDonald (25 points) hit one of the two free throws from the resulting technical foul but the Eagles came up empty on a 3-point attempt on their ensuing possession.

Ritchie hit four straight free throws over the final 15 seconds to help seal the win.

Both teams shot 50 percent from the free-throw line, as Warren County hit 6 of 12 and the Eagles 7 of 14.

Clarke County, whose seven-point lead in the second quarter was the largest for either team on Monday night, showed several different defensive looks against Warren County — full-court zone pressure and half-court traps among them — but the Wildcats handled the ball well, turning the ball over 11 times, including just four times in the second half and once in the fourth period.

Warren County was also showed some various looks of its own, using mainly zone while also working in some traps and a box-and-one on Sean McDonald in the second half.

“You’ve got to be able to make changes on the fly and we haven’t always been on the same page when we’re trying to do that. But tonight we executed pretty well,” Mathews said.

The Wildcats also benefited from some offensive balance that hasn’t always been there this season. In addition to Ford’s perimeter shooting, Warren County got a big boost from the post play from Lawrence and Rutherford, who combined to score most of their points in the paint against the Eagles.

“We had good matchups down low,” said Rutherford, who had 14 points and seven rebounds. “We were able to get into the paint and get some high percentage shots.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com