Free throws key for Wildcats

Warren County's Autumn Troxell maneuvers inside against William Monroe's Lauren Morris, left, and Breanna Strother, right, during first half girls basketball action Wednesday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County’s girls basketball team struggled from the free-throw line for most of Wednesday’s season opener against visiting William Monroe. But the Wildcats made key shots from the line when they needed to.

Warren County broke a late tie with the Green Dragons following a made free throw by junior Samantha Schroyer with 29 seconds remaining. Wildcats senior Jordan Christian followed suit with a free throw of her own a few seconds later, and senior Autumn Troxell knocked down a pair of free throws with 4.9 seconds remaining to help Warren County clinch a 45-44 Bull Run District win.

Troxell’s two free throws turned out to be the game winners, as William Monroe’s Breanna Strother connected on a 3-pointer from the corner as time expired.

“We didn’t play a very good game, but the final two minutes we played our best,” Wildcats coach John Kelly said. “At halftime we had talked about foul shots winning the ballgame, and those two foul shots at the very end actually did win the game for us after that last shot. It’s the small things like that. We have players coming back that have that experience. I thought that final two minutes was the game for us.”

Warren County (1-0, 1-0 Bull Run), which turned the ball over 23 times in the win, squandered a 12-point lead midway through the third quarter after opening the second half with a 9-2 run.

Trailing 29-17 after Troxell knocked down a mid-range jumper off an inbounds play, William Monroe went on a run of its own, scoring eight unanswered points to pull within four late in the third period.

That run was powered by a defensive switch by the Dragons, who began using full-court man-to-man pressure in the period and forced the Wildcats to turn the ball over eight times in the frame.

“Our communication kind of hurt us. We stopped talking, didn’t really cut as well as we were doing,” said Troxell, who led all scorers with 17 points despite playing on a badly sprained right ankle. “We definitely let our guard up and I feel like that was definitely one of the key factors that hurt us.”

The Wildcats took a 31-27 lead into the fourth period, but William Monroe rallied to take a 35-33 lead — its first since early in the second period — on Strother’s fast-break layup off her own steal with five minutes to play.

Warren County reclaimed a 36-35 lead with 3:40 left when freshman Nichole Rittgers nailed a 3-pointer from the wing, and Troxell sparked a 5-0 run when she hit a layup in transition against the Dragons’ press, drew a foul and sank the ensuing free throw.

William Monroe chipped away over the final two minutes to eventually tie the game at 41-all before the Wildcats made four of their final six free throws.

Warren County, which hit just 6 of 16 free throws, shot 39.1 percent (18 for 46) from the floor in the win. Christian had 10 points for the Wildcats, while Schroyer added nine.

“They feed off of [Troxell] an awful lot and that’s obvious because she’s a four-year starter,” Kelly said. “They know when she’s limited what she can do but they did a good job of scoring without her tonight, which is a hard thing for them to have to learn to do.”

William Monroe shot just 28.1 percent (18 for 64) from the field against a Warren County defense that consistently alternated between various zone looks, but Dragons head coach Jess Stafford said she was still pleased with how her team handled the Wildcats’ defensive shifts.

“It was interesting. I was proud of the way our point guard, Kristin Shifflett, and our senior, Bree Strother, handled it because I don’t feel like we were razzled by it to the point to where they were younger they would’ve been,” Stafford said. “I’m proud of them for being able to do that.”

The Dragons, who turned the ball over 14 times, hit just 7 of 17 shots from the free-throw line.

Breanna Strother finished with 15 points to lead the Dragons, while Kristen Manz and Da’Jour Strother each had nine points for William Monroe.

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