Strong second half helps Warren County girls top Skyline

Skyline's Nikea Whitmore pulls down a rebound as she gets pressure from Warren County's Maya Dade, left, and Samantha Schroyer, right, during second half girls basketball action on Thursday night at Skyline High School in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – The halftime speech in Warren County’s girls basketball locker room midway through Thursday’s road game at cross-town rival Skyline consisted of Wildcats coach John Kelly preaching the importance of minimizing his team’s mental mistakes. The Wildcats listened.

Warren County took care of the basketball in the second half, turning the ball over just four times over the final two periods, while hitting some key shots down the stretch to pull out a 35-33 Conference 28 victory.

“At halftime all we talked about was playing inside our heads, playing smart basketball – ‘play mentality’ was the word we used,” Kelly said. “And that’s the only adjustment we made, was playing inside of our heads and they came out in the second half, played much more intense, a lot better passes, a lot less turnovers and just worked the ball around better. In the fourth quarter that really helped us the most, I thought.”

Neither team found much success on the offensive end, as Warren County gained just a 25-24 lead on Sam Schroyer’s baseline layup with 6:52 to play. Both sides would go over four minutes without scoring until finding some rhythm beyond the 3-point arc.

Following a free throw by Warren County’s Kima Robinson to put the Wildcats up 26-24 with 2:40 left, Skyline senior Makaela Dawkins connected on a 3-pointer to give Skyline a one-point lead with 2:20 to play.

Warren County's Samantha Schroyer drives the baseline over Skyline's Nikea Whitmore during second quarter action on Thursday night at Skyline High School in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

After a timeout, Wildcats senior Hayley Martin came back with her own trey to reclaim the lead for Warren County. A leaning jumper from Arianna Smoot from 15 feet extended the Wildcats’ lead to 31-27 with 1:28 left, and Martin (9 points) connected on a quick 3 after Skyline’s Nikea Whitmore hit a free throw to push that lead to 34-28 with 58 seconds to play.

“When she’s hot she has the green light to shoot the ball, even if she’s rushing a little bit,” Kelly said, adding that Martin’s fourth-quarter defense was as important as her shooting.

Skyline would counter with another 3 by Dawkins (9 points, eight rebounds) and a stickback by Whitmore (15 points, eight rebounds) off a Dawkins misfire from beyond the arc to cut Warren County’s lead to 34-33 with 13 seconds left. But Wildcats junior Kima Robinson hit one of two free throws with 3 seconds remaining, and Dawkins’ half-court heave at the buzzer missed.

Skyline had a handful of fouls to give when the Hawks began hacking away to stop the clock over the 35 seconds remaining, and Kelly said one of the biggest keys to Warren County’s success was its ability to protect the ball in that situation.

“We told them that they’re gonna foul you, we have to hold onto the ball each time,” he said. “And we did that, and I think that was a key point was we maintained possession through their mad fury of fouling. That’s hard to do, especially with young guards.”

Skyline's Makaela Dawkins shoots over Warren County's Abegail Lee during second half action on Thursday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

Thursday’s game played like a typical Skyline-Warren County matchup, as both teams struggled to score the ball and neither side led by more than 6 points. Skyline held a slight advantage in field goal percentage (26.1 percent to 25 percent) and rebounding (38-34), but Hawks coach Jim Kenney said the game was lost in the turnover battle, where Warren County held a 13-21 edge.

“I know for us we had well over 20 turnovers and we basically just handed it to them on a silver platter tonight, to be honest,” Kenney said. “We did ourselves in. It wasn’t really anything they did. The game shouldn’t have even been that close at the end but we … turned the ball over, we don’t value possessions, which is not the norm. We’ve actually been doing a lot better with that. I don’t know what happened tonight.”

Warren County led 8-5 after the first period before Skyline rallied to take a 15-14 lead into halftime. The Wildcats gained a 20-17 lead in the third period behind a 6-0 run powered solely by senior Sam Schroyer – who led Warren County with 11 points before exiting the game with two minutes remaining due to lower leg cramps – and took a 23-21 lead into the final quarter after Martin hit her first 3-pointer of the night.

Smoot added 8 points and four rebounds for Warren County, while Jakya Jones had seven rebounds for Skyline.

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

Warren County's Maya Dade tries to get a grip on the ball with a host of other hands during fourth quarter action against Skyline High School on Thursday night. Rich Cooley/Daily