By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- For much of Saturday's non-district boys basketball game with visiting Warren County, the Skyline senior duo of Cliff Woodard and Kyle Phillips could hardly say they were having fun.
Both players had picked up several fouls and each player was a non-factor in scoring, combining for five points through three periods of a low-scoring affair.
But during a huddle before the start of the fourth period, Skyline coach Sonny Dyke had just the right words to share to motivate his seniors. When Dyke encouraged the Hawks to run the Wildcats right out of the gym, Woodard and Phillips made sure their final home game with their arch-rival would be lopsided at the end.
Holding a four-point lead heading to the fourth, Skyline unloaded for 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting in the final period and zipped past Warren County for a 62-48 win.
"In the huddle, coach [Dyke] was telling us if we wanted to get some easier baskets to keep running [Warren County] and rebound," said Woodard, who scored 10 of his team-best 13 points in the fourth. "Pitch ahead and just run and run. We just got a lot better shots."
Known as a player that doesn't need to be nudged to shoot anytime he has the ball in close, Phillips, an undersized (5-foot-10) forward, made up for a scoreless first half by scoring eight of his 10 points in the fourth, the first three baskets coming from short jumpers in the lane.
Said Phillips: "If I'm a couple of steps inside 3-point range, I'm confident shooting the ball."
Afterward, Dyke talked about how his team played unselfishly throughout, and the coach also admired how both Woodard and Phillips overcame their earlier struggles in the game to make an impact late when the outcome was still in doubt.
"I thought [Woodard and Phillips] stepped up and made some huge, what I call leader, plays," Dyke said. "Kyle, defensively, I mean, [Warren County's] Damien [Caison] was putting it on the floor and we really didn't have anyone who could guard him. Kyle was certainly our best matchup [on Caison] and he wanted to do it."
The Hawks did a good enough job to slow Caison some, holding the junior to 5-of-14 shooting and 12 points. Caison was forced into more ballhandling duties when top scorer Logan Hibbs, due to foul trouble, could not be on the floor long enough to make a difference.
Hibbs picked up two fouls in the first three minutes, was called for two more within 30 seconds of each other in the third, and was never a factor offensively, going scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting.
"He's a point guard, too, so a lot of the offense starts through him," Warren County coach Vernon Mathews said of Hibbs. "He's been our leading scorer all year and he's a good shooter. It was tough."
Until Phillips and Woodard got warmed up, several underclassmen did their part to give Skyline (3-10) an edge. Zach Dove came off the bench and hit his first three shots and scored seven of his nine points in a first period that saw the Hawks gain a 13-8 lead. In the middle periods, it was Ryan Dyke that got key points.
The Wildcats (4-10) had moved ahead 19-16 late in the first half when Ryan Dyke hit a 3-pointer to tie it then added two free throws with 18 seconds left for a 21-19 Skyline lead at the half. In the third, Skyline was ahead by two when Dyke (12 points, eight rebounds, two assists) buried another 3-pointer before adding two more free throws to send the lead to seven.
In the fourth, Jon Roof (game-high 17 points) kept Warren County close for several minutes until the Hawks began to expand on their lead with well-timed passing and consistent shooting.
With just over five minutes left, Phillips hit a jumper. Then another. And another. Phillips' last basket in the run sent the lead to nine with 2:38 left and was the first of three scored by Skyline off an inbounds play that followed a timeout.
"[Phillips] does hit some big ones," Sonny Dyke said. "I know he hit three there in the fourth quarter that were big."
As the final minutes ticked away, the Hawks kept expanding their lead. Woodard, who opened the period with a 3-pointer, scored off a deep inbounds pass from Ryan Dyke. Woodard added a conventional three-point play off a drive, then Phillips scored off another long pass from Dyke to make it a 10-point game with 56 seconds left.
"They executed well," Mathews said. "I think we might have been worn down a little bit at that point. It seemed like they couldn't miss. We couldn't get down the court and get any momentum. We'd score and they'd answer right back."
The Hawks were happy to win at home for the first time since Dec. 15 and finish a game in a positive fashion for a change.
"We haven't been able to close out games," Woodard said. "A big part of it today was knocking down free throws [the Hawks made 14-of-18]. We've been struggling there, so we've worked on it."
Skyline won the rebounding battle, 40-31. Ryan Dyke and Cameron Taylor each had eight boards, and Taylor added five assists. Eli McEathron also gave Skyline a lift off the bench with offense (five points) and defense (three steals).
Warren County also got nine points and a game-high 11 rebounds from Chase Rexroat. The Wildcats, who had won their last two and were hoping to get to five wins in a season for the first time since the 2006-07 season, had only five players score in the loss.