By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY - As each Skyline 3-pointer fell, James Bowens could see his team's lead slipping away.
What was more frustrating was that it seemed the Hawks couldn't miss from beyond the arc. A 10-point Sherando lead became seven. Seven became five. Five became three. Suddenly the game was tied. Before long, the Warriors found themselves trailing.
It took a valiant effort by the home team to fight off the comeback, but in the end Sherando, which had been up by as many as 13 at one time, outlasted Skyline for a 55-49 victory.
"It was wild," Bowens said of Skyline's near comeback. "I couldn't believe it. First of all, we definitely underestimated them a little. We should've stepped out more. We were just being a little lazy. We need to pick it up and it took us too long to figure that out. It was definitely frustrating."
The contest between the two teams had a wild finish, but it sure didn't start with as much intensity and excitement. Both teams struggled mightily in the first quarter, shooting a combined 7-for-27 from the floor. The Hawks managed just six points in the quarter and were forced to rely on their bench early on after center Luke Pingley picked up two early fouls. Sherando had a hard time capitalizing, however, as the Warriors managed just 12 points, eight of which came from Daniel Nichols.
In the second quarter the offensive woes continued, but an aggressive approach to the Warriors' offensive attack helped them spread their lead to double digits. Skyline made just two shots from the field, and despite just three made field goals from Sherando, the Warriors were able to get to the free-throw line 10 times in the quarter, giving them a 24-14 lead at halftime.
"The first quarter we were really sluggish," Sherando coach Garland Williams said. "But we did some things to get a lead and accomplished some things we wanted to get done. In the third quarter they kept chipping and chipping and we let loose their good shooters and the next thing you know, they were right back in the game."
The Hawks did precisely that in the third quarter, using a 3-point barrage to claw at the Warriors' lead, eventually taking a one-point cushion of their own after Cameron Taylor and Cliff Woodard hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Skyline a 36-35 lead heading into the fourth quarter. During their third-quarter rally, the Hawks hit four 3-pointers and went 8-of-11 from the floor.
The final quarter packed the most punch, as both teams took turns holding a one-possession lead, while tempers started to boil over on the court. At one point, Pingley crashed the boards with such aggression that he made contact with Sherando's Dominique Porter and picked up a hard foul. Upset at the foul, Porter stood up and pushed Pingley before tempers had a chance to cool. Both teams were slapped with a technical foul, and it was clear neither team was going to back down.
And while players needed a few minutes to cool their tempers, it seemed Skyline's success from beyond the arc had cooled down as well. The Hawks went just 1-of-9 from behind the 3-point line, and eventually allowed the Warriors to grab a multi-possession lead with just less than five minutes to go in the game. After a few baskets back and forth, Sherando's Phil Root knocked down two clutch free throws with 14 seconds left to put the Warriors ahead by five. Root finished the game with 13 points, while Bowens added 13 of his own, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
"I just knew I had to be clutch at that moment," Root said. "We practice those situations. Go hard for 20 minutes then stop, do 10 foul shots, so we know what to do in those situations. We came up big there."
After the final buzzer any hostility on the court was gone, and both teams retired to their respective locker rooms.
"There's a lot of disappointment in that locker room," Skyline coach Sonny Dyke said. "I let them sit there for a few minutes and I just watched. I let them know that's what a losing locker room is supposed to look like. I think the hurting was genuine. Those are the things I look for in a young team because that's a sign that we're about to turn that corner."