Whitmore’s free throws help lift Hawks over Wildcats

FRONT ROYAL — Nikea Whitmore hasn’t been happy with her free-throw shooting this season, but on Friday night she made up for it in a big way.

The Skyline junior made some clutch free throws down the stretch to help lift the Hawks to a 39-34 non-district girls basketball win over rival Warren County.

“I’ve been struggling early in the season with my free throws,” Whitmore said. “I just got to remind myself ‘confidence’ when you walk up to the line.”

The Hawks were clinging to a 33-32 lead with three minutes left, and Whitmore scored Skyline’s last six points. She scored on a basket inside with 2:34 remaining to push the lead to 35-32.

Warren County’s Arianna Smoot made two free throws with 1:16 left to cut the lead to 35-34.

Whitmore then made four free throws in three trips to the free-throw line over the remainder of the game.

The Wildcats (2-5) didn’t help their cause as they missed all four free-throw attempts in the final minute of the game.

“We missed 11 free throws. You can’t win a ballgame missing 11 free throws like that,” Warren County coach John Kelly said. “They made theirs down the stretch and we did not.”

It was a defensive struggle for both teams during much of the game. Both teams had long stretches without a field goal.

Skyline freshman Alaina Smith led the Hawks with 11 points, including three 3-pointers. She had two in the first period, and the game was tied 8-8.

The Hawks (4-4) were able to surge ahead in the second period, ending the half on a 7-0 run for a 21-17 lead.

The Wildcats responded in the third period. They scored the last nine points of the period to take a 31-26 lead. Warren County’s Sam Schroyer sparked the run with four points, including a steal and a layup.

“We told them (at halftime) to penetrate a lot more,” Kelly said. “Get the ball on the wing, move through and penetrate and we did that. We hit our shots in the third and missed them in the fourth.”

The Hawks made only one basket in the third period, which came in the first two minutes.

In the fourth period it was Warren County’s turn to struggle making shots. The Wildcats didn’t make a field goal in the period. Skyline scored the first five points, including four from Makaela Dawkins to tie the game at 31 with 5:22 left.

Warren County’s Lisette Moya Machuca made a free throw with 4:35 remaining to give the Wildcats a 32-31 advantage. Smith gave the Hawks the lead for good on a basket off a no-look pass from Dawkins with 3:40 left.

As good as Smith was for the Hawks offensively, coach Jim Kenney said it was her defense that impressed him the most. He said he also loved the play of freshman Rachel Sirbaugh.

“I know she hit some big shots, but her defense was exceptional,” Kenney said of Smith. “Rachel Sirbaugh, another freshman, there was nothing out there that threw at her that she didn’t respond to. They tried to trap her. They sent multiple people after her. She made some good moves. She had some good passes. … Rachel and Alaina – they do not play like freshmen.”

Schroyer led the Wildcats with eight points and five rebounds. Smoot had seven points and six rebounds for Warren County.

The Wildcats have a young squad and Kelly said he’s happy with the progress they’ve shown.

“Almost every one of our guards, except for Hayley (Martin) is either a sophomore or a junior,” Kelly said. “They feel like they’re surging. To get over that top, it’s going to be that one little push that gets us over the top. We’re getting better and better, but we need this game experience to take that next step for us.”

Whitmore finished with eight points and seven rebounds, and Dawkins had seven points and eight rebounds for the Hawks.

The Hawks also have a young squad with four freshmen, and Whitmore said she’s happy with how they’ve done so far.

“We have good team chemistry. We all know each other well,” Whitmore said. “We have to know our advantages, use them well. … Even though we have four wins our goal is to push forward. We have a long season left to go.”

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