Wildcats rise to occasion for tournament win

FRONT ROYAL — The late Dean Smith always told his team in tight circumstances that the “cream would rise to the top” before a game ended. That was the situation Monday when Bull Run District tournament fourth seed Warren County knocked off visiting fifth seed William Monroe, 51-38, in a district quarterfinal.

The victory sends the Wildcats (12-9) against first-seed Clarke County tonight in the Bull Run tourney semifinals in Berryville.

The semifinals of the conference tournament is where the ‘Cats finished their 2013-14 season.

The Wildcats had been yearning for such a berth after attaining three victories before losing to second-seeded George Mason on last Friday.

Warren County found itself ahead of the Green Dragons (8-14) 25-23 with 4:41 showing in the third quarter when Autumn Troxell, the Wildcats’ senior small forward, started to get into the act.

Averaging almost 17 points a game, Troxell had been relatively quiet on offense in the first half. She totaled seven of her game-high total 17 points in the first two quarters. The smaller Dragons did a good job knocking off her the block, although teammates Samantha Schroyer (eight rebounds) and point guard Jordan Christian (15 points) did enough things to keep the home team ahead.

“She had been getting knocked around down low, so we moved her out on the wing where she would have a better chance of scoring,” said Warren County coach John Kelly.

When Troxell realized she was being covered by a smaller defender, she started to take advantage as the Wildcats worked to get her the ball in the third quarter.

From the 4:04 mark to about the six-minute barrier of the fourth quarter, Troxell scored seven straight points for the Wildcats, pushing their lead to 32-26. She finished this particular run notching nine of the Wildcats’ 11 points.

Then it was time for Christian, who had chimed in with a 3-pointer in the first 16 minutes. Christian, as the Wildcats’ principal ball-handler, was successively fouled as the Dragons tried to “slow” down the clock. She made 12-of-15 free throws in the fourth quarter to ice the tournament victory.

“We shoot free throws all the time and it paid off with Jordan,” Troxell said. The guard also contributed five rebounds.

The Dragons made it 38-36 on two Breanna Strother (15 points) baskets. When William Monroe coach Jess Stafford called timeout, his team had three minutes to get back into the contest.

It didn’t happen. After Warren County’s Paige McLachlan’s basket, Christian missed her two free throws with 1:40 to go. But after William Monroe’s Cor’shauna Cunningham (eight rebounds) missed a pair, Christian did her thing. The senior made 9-of-10 at the free-throw line as her team coasted ahead by the final score with 51-38 left.

The Wildcats used three different runs to hold off the Green Dragons. Actually, William Monroe led 6-0 when Warren County reeled off 10 points to the visitors’ three and took a 10-9 lead as the second quarter opened.

The Green Dragons’ Makayla Morris made a steal and subsequent free throw to tie the game at 15. Then the Wildcats went on a 7-1 blast to lead 22-16 with 2:22 left in the half. The halftime spread was four.

The last Warren County spurt came courtesy of Troxell and Christian. Troxell scored five straight for a 30-23 advantage. Christian made 9-of-10 free throws to seal the verdict.

The Wildcats turned the Green Dragons over seven times and allowed just three points in the third quarter.

“We talk about late in games, making free throws, getting rebounds, and playing defense,” Kelly said.

It was Warren County’s third win over William Monroe this season.

Warren County still has a regular season game left with cross-town rival Skyline; however, a victory Tuesday could rub out that game in place of a potential district championship game, Kelly said.

Warren County, William Monroe, Central, Skyline, John Champe and Loudoun Valley open Conference 28 post-season play Monday. This tournament will be seeded by ratings, and all first-round games will begin at the site of the high-placed team.