Wildcats boys hold off rival Hawks

Warren County's Cameron Ford drives to the basket as Skyline's Evan Lester defends during first quarter action on Nov. 7 at Skyline High School. Ford had a strong season in football, basketball and baseball. Rich Cooley/Daily file

FRONT ROYAL – For most of the early part of the season, Warren County’s boys basketball team has been unable to finish out close games. On Thursday night, the Wildcats finally did so on the road against cross-town rival Skyline.

Warren County redeemed a one-point loss to the Hawks last month by sneaking out of its rival’s gymnasium with a 53-51 Conference 28 victory. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Wildcats, who had lost seven of their last eight games entering Thursday night.

“We’ve been talking about basketball IQ and … we’ve just been talking about being able to finish those games,” Wildcats first-year coach Tony Clark said. “I think the coaching staff’s figured out the personnel that we need to have on the floor at certain times, whether it’s defensively or to get a rebound or slow the pace down or speed it up. It’s taken a little bit longer than I would’ve wished but I think we’re starting to figure out our personnel packages and putting people in the right places.”

Warren County (4-8), which lost on a late free throw in its first meeting with Skyline (5-5) on Dec. 18, needed to use the free-throw line Thursday to propel itself to victory. Eleven of the Wildcats’ 16 points in the fourth period came from the stripe, although Clark still expressed disappointment in Warren County’s overall 16-28 mark from the line in the game.

“We left (12) free throws on the floor from what I can count,” he said. “The thing about it is our kids practice free throws all the time. They shoot them so well. I felt good with the kids that were going to the line, but if we hit some of them free throws it’s not even close.”

Skyline's TraQuan Diamond drives to the basket during second quarter action on Thursday night as Warren County's Cameron Ford defends. Rich Cooley/Daily

In what turned out to be a close game throughout, the Wildcats led 37-36 heading into the fourth period. Skyline senior TrayQuan Diamond briefly gave the Hawks the lead with a driving bucket to start the frame before Wildcats junior Cam Ford (19 points) hit a very deep 3-pointer and a driving layup and R.J. Keeney hit a pair of free throws to put Warren County up 44-38 with 5:23 to play.

The Hawks responded with two free throws each by Diamond and Antwan Swain to pull within two, and Warren County used a pair of free throws each from Keeney and Robert Rutherford to counteract buckets by Swain and Evan Lester to maintain that two-point lead. Two more free throws by Diamond (19 points) tied the game at 48-48 with 2:24 to play.

Warren County pushed its lead back to two points with a free throw each from Marqwon Haley and Brendan McMackin (11 points), before another free throw by Swain pulled Skyline within a point with 14.6 seconds to play.

After being fouled pulling down the rebound on Swain’s second free-throw attempt, Wildcats senior Clyde Ritchie stepped to the line and hit his first throw before missing the second. However, Keeney – who finished with 12 boards – pulled down an offensive rebound, setting up two made free throws by Haley that put the Wildcats up 53-49 with nine seconds left.

Diamond was allowed to drive the lane for an uncontested bucket on Skyline’s next possession, and Haley missed both of his free throw attempts after being fouled on the inbound pass with 3.5 seconds left. But Skyline sharpshooter Colin Smith saw his potential game-winning 3-pointer from the wing hit the back of the iron.

Warren County's Collin Garnett blocks Skyline's Brandon Well's shot at the buzzer at half time during basketball action on Thursday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

“That was a good shot there at the end,” Hawks first-year coach Jeff Monroe said. “Colin had a good look and when you have one of your better shooters taking the shot you feel comfortable.”

Neither team shot particularly well from the field, as Skyline hit 34.6 percent (18 for 52) of its shots while Warren County hit 29.4 percent (15 of 51). Clark praised the defensive effort of Haley, who matched up with Smith in the Wildcats’ man-to-man defense and held the sophomore to 9 points, including just two in the second half.

Warren County held a slim advantage in rebounds (37-36) and turnovers (11-12).

“I’m sure it was like one of those typical Skyline and Warren County games,” Monroe said. “Fought tooth and nail, nobody really got a big lead. I’m proud of our guys fighting back, especially being down by about six there at one time. … We made some mistakes, missed a few free throws when we needed them, missed a few layups when we needed them. But to their credit they made the shots when they had to and they made the free throws when they had to.”

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