Warren girls narrowly beat John Champe: County girls survive expected growing pains in win

Warren County's Nikki Roof is fouled by John Champe's Karlie Harman during second quarter action Tuesday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County High School’s girls basketball team had a chance to run away with a blowout win in its season opener at home Tuesday night in a game that ended with a narrow 49-46 non-district win over John Champe.

The Wildcats took a 30-19 lead into halftime and led by as many as 18 points in the third period before getting sloppy , a barrage of turnovers threatening to derail the Warren County coaching debut of head coach Christine Simmons.

Warren County survived, thanks in part to a cold shooting night from Champe that saw the Knights connect on just 25.8 percent of their shots, but the contest exposed the Wildcats’ lack of practice time as a full team after Warren County’s volleyball team extended its season all the way to the VHSL Class 3 state championship game on Nov. 18. Five of the Wildcats’ 10 varsity girls basketball players competed with the volleyball team and didn’t begin basketball practice until last week.

“We’re rushing to get started and some of these other teams have been practicing for three weeks and we haven’t had that luxury,” Simmons said after the Wildcats’ victory. “There’s only so much you can practice in a day and there’s obviously some things we still need to work on.”

The Wildcats (1-0) struggled mightily against Champe’s (0-1) full-court zone pressure, which the Knights turned to in the third quarter as Warren County threatened to push its lead to 20 points.

Warren County's Morgan Coons drives to the basket as John Champe's Sydney Banks defends during second quarter action. Rich Cooley/Daily

After hitting their first four shots of the second half to take a 39-21 lead with 4:45 left in the third period, the Wildcats were outscored 25-10 the rest of the way and turned the ball over 17 times in the second half. Warren County had 11 turnovers on 19 possessions in the fourth quarter while often failing to get the ball past half court.

“That’s definitely something we were aware of,  just because we haven’t had time to really truly practice it,” Simmons said of anticipating Tuesday’s struggles against full-court pressure. “I mean we have girls that can obviously handle the ball, we have girls that can make good passes and get the ball down the court, but without that actual practice and stuff,  it’s something that we’re a little bit shaky. It’ll come.”

The sloppy play over the final two quarters came on the heels of a first half that saw the Wildcats turn the ball over just eight times while holding a 21-15 advantage on the glass en route to an 11-point halftime lead.

Warren County ended the night shooting 36.4 percent (16-for-44) from the field and outrebounded Champe 44-36.

“We had a lot of shots in the first half. We were just using everything we got and we were open, we were talking. We were clicking,” Wildcats senior guard Nikki Roof said.

Warren County's Cor'shauna Cunningham goes up underneath the basket to score as John Champe's Briana Porter looks on during first quarter action on Nov. 28 in Front Royal. Cunningham has grown over the last few years and she is a big factor for the team this season. Rich Cooley/Daily

“We came out saying we needed more energy and everything,” she added. “I don’t know, I think the lead, I think we all just kind of thought, ‘Oh, we got it.’ It slipped a little bit but we held our own, kept them under.”

Roof and fellow seniors Nichole Rittgers, Ariana Lopez and Cor’shauna Cunningham did their part to help the Wildcats build and hold onto the lead from start to finish. That quartet – all starters – combined to score 40 of Warren County’s 49 points on Tuesday night.

Lopez, who scored seven points in the first period, led the Wildcats with 13 points and hit a pair of key free throws in the final two minutes of the game to help preserve the lead. Roof added 11 points and six rebounds, Rittgers – who hit a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the first half – had nine points and eight rebounds and Cunningham, despite battling foul trouble in the second half and fouling out with four minutes to play, ended the night with seven points and nine boards.

“I think the girls played well as a team overall,” said Simmons, whose team returns to action with a 6 p.m. home game against Woodgrove today. “They supported each other through everything regardless. They’re always there to pick each other up. I’m happy with the way things went and just the way that they came out with the few practices we had. I think they really stepped it up. We’ve thrown a lot at them, so I’m very happy that they have actually retained a majority of the stuff we’ve thrown at them.”

Warren County's Nichole Rittgers fires a running one-hand shot over John Champe's Anvitha Anumolu during third quarter action Tuesday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

Warren County's Brianna Hogan fires a shot over Halie Yi during third quarter action. Rich Cooley/Daily

Warren County coaches Christine Simmons, left, and Ali DeBarto, right, sit on the bench with players Ariana Lopez, left, and Cor'shauna Cunningham, and Mackenzi Bates, right. Rich Cooley/Daily