Heading into its host tournament, the Warrenton girls basketball team had already faced its share of adversity this season. Head Coach Greg Williams was cautiously optimistic about his expectations …
Heading into its host tournament, the Warrenton girls basketball team had already faced its share of adversity this season. Head Coach Greg Williams was cautiously optimistic about his expectations for the Warriors, who had turned strongly toward both their faith and their bench following a sputtering 2-6 start this winter.
“Coming in, we just wanted to win the first game,” acknowledged Williams.
It explains why Williams was pleasantly surprised to witness his team hoist the championship trophy at the conclusion of the tournament on Friday. The Warriors, who entered the field as the fifth seed, outlasted No. 2 Eureka, 63-52, to capture first place for the third straight season.
“The kids are competing hard now and having fun,” said Williams. “We’re getting better, and it’s a real blessing.”
Sophomore Allison Tonioli unleashed a game-high 29 points, while senior Ashtyn Dixon hit a pair of pivotal 3’s down the stretch en route to 17 points. Both have seen an increase in their responsibilities after the team received news that senior starting point guard Rylie Cox would miss significant time due to a back injury.
“I think our kids had hit a point where they’d had enough and as competitors, they were fed up,” said Williams. “They decided that the injuries and struggles we’ve faced are only going to make us stronger and better.”
The Warriors came out on an explosive 13-2 run to start the game on Friday. Williams used this cushion as an opportunity to give his starters a rest, as Warrenton put up a tremendous amount of shots in the first quarter.
“We came out with a good pace and were able to get the ball where we needed to get it,” said Williams.
The Warriors led 16-8 heading into the second period, during which Eureka would score 10 unanswered points to take a 21-20 lead with 1:15 remaining in the half.
“We got into some foul trouble, and our young kids got a little unsettled,” said Williams.
Dixon and Tonioli responded with back-to-back treys to push their team back on top 26-21 at halftime.
“I was nervous at first, because I didn’t know if they would increase the pressure,” said Tonioli. “We started playing together, and things started working out. When the game started getting close I decided to just take over.”
Eureka climbed within three early in the fourth quarter, but a balanced contribution by the Warriors kept their opponent at bay. Tonioli knocked down five free throws in the final period and went a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe on the night.
“Our free-throw shooting has been a real plus,” said Williams. “The girls have been coming in every morning and working on those.”
Senior Kayla Nelson provided an inside threat for Warrenton, finishing with 10 points.
“This tournament win was huge for us, because we had a really rough start to the season,” said Dixon.
BIG WIN — Warrenton Head Coach Greg Williams congratulates his players following Friday's win over Eureka in the Warrenton Winter Shootout championship game. Derrick Forsythe photo.Richard Demler