Falcons top Wildcats 61-49

Central's Luke Estep is fouled by Warren County's Joseph Rutherford as he goes to the basket during second quarter action Tuesday night in Front Roya.. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Central boys basketball coach Brandon Shields left the gymnasium at Warren County High School on Tuesday night feeling pretty good about his team’s execution over the final few minutes of the Falcons’ Bull Run District matchup with the Wildcats.

In the midst of a closely contested affair that seemed destined for a nerve-wracking finish, the Falcons did what they needed to do. The defense got stops, the offense was patient and protected the ball, and the free throws fell through the hoop with regular consistency in the fourth period. The result was a 61-49 victory for Central, its fourth straight victory.

“I thought that was the most composed we’ve been trying to put away a game, instead of doing just funky stuff that we sometimes do,” Shields said. “… We wanted to get layups and free throws, and for the most part we did, and make it as difficult as possible for them. We wanted to just try to keep it at that three-possession game as much as possible.”

Central (12-6) did that Tuesday night by hitting 9 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter, including 8 for 10 over the final three minutes. With the Falcons holding a 53-49 lead with 2:21 to play after the Wildcats (6-13) rallied to nearly erase a 10-point deficit, sophomore Varsey Bright hit 5 of 6 free throws over the next minute to give Central a fairly comfortable 9-point lead with 90 seconds left.

“We knew we had to maintain composure and I think we did a great job just coming down and holding the ball, letting them foul us and knocking them down,” said Bright, who led all scorers with 18 points and was 11 for 14 from the foul line.

Warren County's Brendan McMackin fouls Central's Varsey Bright as Bright goes up to score under the basket during second quarter action Tuesday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

While it was ultimately the success at the free-throw line that pulled the Falcons away, Shields said the decisive moment in the game was a pair of fast-break layups by junior point guard Ian Pugh and Bright to open the fourth period. Those two buckets capped an 11-2 Central run that resulted in a 50-40 lead with seven minutes to play, the Falcons’ largest lead of the night until Luke Estep’s two free throws put Central up 61-49 with 10 seconds left.

“It didn’t feel like we had a lot of energy going up into the fourth quarter, and even in that fourth quarter we kind of had a stagnant period, but I thought we responded well,” Shields said. “Sometimes you’ve just gotta find a way to win kind of an ugly one.”

Warren County began chipping way at the 10-point deficit, as a 7-0 run – triggered by a bucket in the paint by senior Robert Rutherford and fueled by 5 points from senior point guard Clyde Ritchie – pulled the Wildcats within 3 points with four minutes left. However, the Wildcats wouldn’t hit another field goal the rest of the way, their only points in that span coming on a pair of Brendan McMackin (9 points) free throws with three minutes to play.

Warren County hit just 3 of 17 shots in the fourth period while leading scorer Cam Ford – who led the Wildcats with 15 points – was held without a point in the final period.

“We went in a slump,” Wildcats first-year coach Tony Clark said. “Now of course those last three or four (possessions) we were throwing up threes just trying to make something happen. And I told the kids, it wasn’t like our shot selection was bad. We sped up the pace of our offense. I thought we got in the paint well. But goodness gracious man, we couldn’t get any of the buckets to fall.”

Warren County's Brendan McMackin makes a move in the lane to get off a shot during first quarter action Tuesday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Warren County shot 35.2 percent (19 for 54) from the floor but turned the ball over just eight times in the loss. Central, which enjoyed a 37-25 advantage on the boards, shot 43.9 percent (18 for 41) from the field.

Shields credited Pugh – who pulled down six of his team-high 11 rebounds in the fourth period – with keeping the Falcons’ offense in sync in the fourth quarter.

“I thought Ian really stepped up and led us there those last two or three minutes, got us set, got some big rebounds for us and kind of calmed us down a little bit,” Shields said.

Central led 17-12 at the end of the first period and 30-28 at halftime. Warren County briefly tied the game with Ford’s runner early in the third period but the Falcons never trailed in the second half.

Kobi Hoover finished with 13 points on the strength of three 3-pointers to go along with nine rebounds, while Estep added 11 points.

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

Warren County's Clyde Ritchie ditches off a pass as Central's Luke Estep, left, and Hank Hoover, center, defend during action Tuesday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily