STRASBURG — Before the start of the season, members of Warren County’s boys basketball team spoke about their desire to play a fast-paced brand of basketball. Tuesday’s non-district win over Strasburg was the latest example of the Wildcats’ up-tempo style.
Warren County repeatedly pushed the pace in its 57-47 win, finishing the night with 14 fastbreak points and consistently attacking the basket for high-percentage looks in the paint on its way to its first road win of the season.
“We’ve been doing this an awful lot all season,” Wildcats head coach John Kelly said. “The only game we didn’t do it was (Monday night) against Kettle Run (in a 70-32 loss) when we got back on our heels a little bit. If we play controlled basketball, we can push the ball. If we play controlled basketball.”
The Wildcats’ running style helped them open an early lead and take advantage of some Strasburg (4-3) foul trouble (three Ram starters went to the bench with two fouls in the first period).
Leading 9-6, Warren County (4-4) forced a turnover that turned into Hunter Pratscher’s layup through contact in transition on the other end. Later during their 12-2 run to close out the first quarter, Pratscher turned his steal into another layup, and Marion Haley converted his own steal-turned-layup that sent the Wildcats into the second period with a 17-8 lead.
“This is what our specialty is,” Pratcher, who led Warren County with 22 points, said of the Wildcats’ run-and-gun style. “This is what we’ve been practicing to do from the first day we started.”
The Wildcats turned to their speed to build a big lead again in the second half after Strasburg rallied to cut the deficit to 2 points heading into halftime.
Pratscher scored another layup in transition to start the scoring in the third period, and Robert Cameron’s cut to the basket off a give-and-go ended with his layup that pushed the lead to six. Cameron’s fastbreak layup off a Pratscher assist and Gabe Davis’ layup following his steal later in the period capped a 17-5 run that gave Warren County a 46-32 lead.
“I think that’s just naturally how we wanna go,” Pratscher said. “All of us wanna be a one-on-one dog, so on fastbreaks we’re just there.”
It wasn’t all about speed for Warren County, however. Ricky Dodson, a 6-foot-6 senior, was an effective weapon in the Wildcats’ half-court offense and finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds. He helped key an offensive effort that saw the Wildcats shoot 52.6 percent (20-for-38) from the floor and score 32 points in the paint.
“His football coach says he weighs the same as he did last year, but it’s muscle and it’s a lot different,” Kelly said of Dodson. “He’s so much more mobile. Now he has a drop-step and it’s hard to move him. He sits inside there, but he also has good hands. He swings the ball pretty well too.”
Strasburg didn’t help its cause against Warren County’s paint presence by committing six early fouls that sent guard Kamryn Pangle and forwards Stephen Kloosterman and Da’Neil Holliday to the bench with foul trouble in the first period. Pangle, who led the Rams with 15 points in the loss, returned at the start of the second period, but Kloosterman and Holliday sat out the rest of the first half after each picked up their second foul midway through the first quarter.
“Our biggest problem was our foul trouble,” Rams head coach Larry Fox said. “We had some guys get in foul trouble early and it kind of changed the game for us a little bit, changed the dynamic of the game, how we wanted to play, which hurt us there.”
Strasburg survived the lineup shuffle and rallied from its 11-point first-half deficit to tie the game with a 10-0 run in the second period, a spurt highlighted by Craig Pangle’s deep 3-pointer from the top of the arc that pulled the Rams within a point with 2:40 left in the half.
After falling behind by 14 points in the third period, the Rams went on another run and ultimately cut the Wildcats’ lead to 6 points when Kamryn Pangle nailed back-to-back treys. That was as close to a comeback as Strasburg would get in the fourth period, however.
“We’ve been talking all year long about we just seem to have one or two three-minute spurts where we don’t execute offensively or defensively the way we think we should and that hurts us a lot,” said Fox, whose team shot 34.6 percent (18-for-52) from the field and was 6-for-26 from 3. “And it usually determines the outcome of the game, to be honest with you. The three-minute bug got us again tonight, I think.”
Strasburg had found itself in a similar double-digit deficit late in its first loss against Warren County on Dec. 4 and managed to make things interesting in the waning minutes by turning to a 2-2-1 zone press that sent the Wildcats scrambling.
The Rams turned to their press again in the rematch, but Warren County did a better job of handling it and closed Tuesday’s game with more authority.
The Wildcats did throw up an ill-advised 3-point shot while holding a 6-point lead with 2 ½ minutes to play and committed four turnovers over the final three minutes, but they never let their lead dip below 6 points and hit 5 of 6 free throws over the final 1:09.
“Free throws win games, especially in that game,” said Pratscher, who was 10-for-10 from the line.