Free throws help Wildcats hold off Rams

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County struggled at three free-throw line down the stretch, but when the Wildcats really had to have them they came through.

The Wildcats hit three free throws in the final 15 seconds to hold off Strasburg for a 49-45 Bull Run District girls basketball victory on Thursday night.

“I started the fourth quarter saying foul shots and rebounds will win this ball game,” Warren County coach John Kelly said. “We missed a couple foul shots, but we got the rebounds after them. Our last three points were free throws. So they really did win the ballgame for us.”

Strasburg used a furious fourth-quarter rally to climb back into the game and cut the lead to one, 43-42, with 2:42 left.

Warren County’s Autumn Troxell hit a free throw to extend the lead to 44-42 with 2:10 remaining. A free throw by Strasburg’s Emily Melnikoff cut the lead to one, but Warren County’s Sam Schroyer hit a jumper to extend the lead to 46-43 with 33 seconds left.

The Rams (11-6, 6-5 Bull Run) battled back as Carey Scott, who scored nine of her 14 points in the fourth quarter, was fouled attempting a 3-pointer. The junior guard made two of three to cut the lead to one with 22 seconds left.

After a missed free throw by Hayley Martin, Warren County’s Jordan Christian grabbed the rebound and made her both of her foul shots for a 48-45 edge with 15 seconds left. Strasburg missed a shot, and Paige McLachlan was fouled with eight seconds remaining.

McLachlan missed both free throws, and on the second miss Troxell secured the long rebound and made a free throw to put the game away with three seconds left.

“We got them to miss those two free throws down the stretch, but I just told them I don’t know that that last rebound Troxell got I don’t think it was a missed box out,” Strasburg coach Joel Morgan said. “I think it was just a long rebound that somebody 6-1 goes up and gets. … We were right there. We just didn’t quite get a finishing play to get us over the top.”

The Rams took an early seven-point lead in the game, but the Wildcats cut the lead to one after the first quarter. The game became a battle of runs the rest of the way.

Warren County (9-8, 8-5 Bull Run) held a 26-22 lead at the half, but Strasburg scored the first seven points of the third quarter, including five from Kelsey Jenkins.

The Wildcats responded with a 9-0 run to take a 35-31 lead with points from four different players. A basket by Strasburg’s Kerigan Jenkins cut the lead to 35-33 at the end of the third quarter, but Warren County came out strong in the fourth quarter.

A driving layup and a jumper by Troxell and a 3-pointer by Christian gave the Wildcats a 42-33 lead with 6:07 left in the game.

“The first half they out-hustled us. They out-rebounded us,” Kelly said. “Most of their points came off put-backs for them. I thought we did a good job in the second half of stopping that.”

The Rams would not go away quietly. Kelsey Jenkins scored on a layup, and Scott hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to help cut the lead to 42-40 with 3:28 left in the game.

“They made a big run to start the fourth, and I’ve seen us fall apart right there,” Morgan said. “I got a timeout and said ‘Hey, we just have to make a run, and hopefully if we can make a run that will carry us and put us in the lead at the right time.’ And we just about got there.”

Scott had seven rebounds and two steals to go with her points. Kelsey Jenkins had 14 points and three rebounds. The loss snapped Strasburg’s five-game winning streak.

Despite the loss, Morgan said he was happy with the way the team played, especially on the offensive end.

“As you move forward, you’ve got to have more people confident on the offensive end if you want to be able to put up points,” Morgan said. “I thought we made some strides tonight.”

Troxell led the Wildcats with a game-high 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Hayley Martin had 11 points and five rebounds.

Kelly said the win was a good learning experience for his team.

“This very well could be our match-up in the first round of the district tournament,” Kelly said. “We know they are capable of beating us. I thought they really out-played us tonight. They hustled more than we did. It’s a good example of what we need to do to get better as we surge towards the final two weeks of the season.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com