By Robert Edmonds - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Skyline and host Millbrook engaged in a hard-fought battle on the hardwood in boys basketball action on Friday night.
With the season winding down, both teams were looking to find some positives to rally to a strong finish before district tournament play begins.
Neither team played exemplary offense, but strong interior play along with hustle and sheer grit made the difference for the Hawks on Friday. After falling behind early, Skyline transitioned to a zone defense to build momentum and rallied behind senior Kyle Phillips to do just enough to secure a win 51-50 over Millbrook.
"We have earned last place in our district," Pioneers coach Scott Mankins said. "It wasn't given to us, we definitely earned it. I feel like we are missing something and not getting through to the players. All the things we talked about turning around and spending the last two days preparing for, they didn't get the message."
Trailing 9-1 early on, the Hawks made the switch to a zone defense for the first time all season. The results were positive as Millbrook settled for poor shots and the Hawks crashed the boards.
"This was the first time playing in the zone defense and we were not too bad," Hawks coach Sonny Dyke said. "We have been working on switching to the zone and the kids responded. Our rebounding was much, much better tonight compared to how we have played earlier in the year and that was definitely the difference in the game."
Phillips scored on back-to-back possessions inside and added a pair of free throws to pull his team to within two at the end of the period. Rallying behind their senior leader, the Hawks did not let up before the half. Luke Pingley and Cliff Woodard each added a 3-pointer and suddenly Skyline forged ahead.
"We switched up our defense and we boxed out a lot better than our recent games," Phillips said. "Our point guards did a good job of handling the pressure from their defense and we just simply wanted to get the win."
Trailing 28-24 at the half, Millbrook hoped to find its groove after the intermission. They did just the opposite, losing their footing and falling further behind as the Millbrook offense failed to sink a single field goal during the third period.
Although Skyline managed to extend its lead to nine points, the Pioneers did not succumb to the deficit as they presented a final surge in the fourth quarter in hopes of sneaking away with a win. Boomer Kaczmarzewski's bucket with 6:16 remaining in the game was the Pioneers' first field goal of the second half.
Three minutes later, a trey from Millbrook's Donte Harris cut the lead to four and sent the crowd into a ruckus. Behind Phillips, Skyline continued to defend its lead as Phillips scored six of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter.
"Kyle [Phillips] had a very inspired practice yesterday," Dyke said. "He showed that tonight and played well on the offensive glass and made a lot of hustle plays for us. He did a lot of things that aren't going to show up in the stats, but he gave a great effort."
Still, Millbrook did not let up. Another 3-pointer from the Pioneers' Rze Culbreath with just less than a minute remaining cut the lead to two. With little time remaining, the Pioneers resorted to fouling to attempt to give themselves the best opportunity. Skyline came through, however, knocking down of 4-of-6 free throws in the last minute.
The last two from Ryan Dyke, with three seconds on the clock, extended the lead to four and, despite Culbreath draining a 3-pointer from half court as the buzzer sounded, it was enough to squeak away with a victory and give the Hawks a bit of confidence with the season winding down.
"We haven't been in many situations like this," Sonny Dyke said. "We had some chances to stretch the lead and we didn't, but we made enough plays in the end to get the job done. We have been getting better every practice since our second week and this win is good for the kids."