By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- With the game tied and less than two minutes to play, Skyline's Cliff Woodard knew he had a chance to catch his defender off-guard.
Handley had been overpursuing the entire night, Woodard noticed, and as Skyline got set to inbound the ball, the senior knew it was time to make them pay.
As Skyline players darted around, trying to get open to receive the inbounds pass, Woodard took off down the sideline, leaving his defender in the dust. It didn't take long for his teammate to notice Woodard all alone down court, and the two connected on a cross-court pass. Woodard snatched the ball out of the air, then finished with an uncontested layup, giving the Hawks a two-point lead.
But a funny thing happened just 15 seconds later. With the Hawks set to inbound the ball following a Handley free throw, Woodard ran the same play. And the result? Another uncontested layup. Those two easy baskets helped lift Skyline to a 65-63 upset of the Judges, avenging a 25-point loss earlier this season.
"The first time, I knew when I faked I knew I had him because they were overplaying us so bad," Woodard said. "And then the second time, I guess they weren't expecting us to do it again. It just happened like that."
Taking advantage of opportunities seemed to be the theme for the Hawks on Thursday night. Skyline's inside presence took a big blow just minutes into the game, as center Luke Pingley picked up two quick fouls, sending him to the bench and forcing the visiting team to rethink their method of attack. Fortunately for the Hawks, Pingley wasn't needed, at least in the first half. Skyline started off on fire from behind the arc, shooting 50 percent from 3-point range in the first half, giving themselves a two-point cushion midway through the second quarter.
Despite the barrage of 3-pointers from Skyline, the Judges wouldn't go away. Jeremiah Wilson and David Carter each had four points in the second quarter, while Jaron Carey came off the bench to add seven second-quarter points of his own, helping the Judges head into halftime down just four.
In the third quarter Skyline took advantage of Handley's offensive woes, which included eight third-quarter turnovers, to help the Hawks build an 11-point lead. Cameron Taylor and Kyle Phillips had five points each in the third quarter, forcing Handley to regroup and slow things down on the offensive end.
As the fourth quarter got underway, however, the Judges did just that. Led by seven points from Wilson, Handley climbed back into the game, eventually tying it at 60, just before Skyline's back-to-back, cross-court passes.
Skyline didn't plan on running that play on back-to-back possessions, much less plan on it being so effective. In fact, according to Skyline coach Sonny Dyke, up until that point in the game, Handley's defense had done a good job of keeping the long-court pass out of the mix.
"We'd been doing the same thing the whole game," Dyke said, "and ironically we changed what we were doing and they came up with that on their own. Both times that was actually done on their own. We had gotten away from that because they were backing people off. They had what I call a shortstop back there to take the long pass away and the kids recognized that and did that totally on their own, which to me, that's another step in these kids' growth."
The plays gave the Hawks a slight cushion, but the game came down to the final possession. With his team ahead by one with 13 seconds left, Woodard missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free-throw opportunity, giving Handley another chance at the victory. With time winding down, Wilson took the ball and drove toward the right side of the basket. As his defender fell in front of him, Wilson had an open shot to win the game, but saw an open Carter underneath the hoop. A bad pass, however, went bouncing off Carter's foot and out of bounds, giving Skyline the ball and sealing the Judges' fate.
"The play was designed for me to take it to the basket and the play kind of messed up somewhere along the way," Wilson said. "I saw David open and I gave him a bad pass below his legs, so that was my fault."
The victory for Skyline avenges a 70-45 loss to Handley earlier this season, and according to Woodard, gives the Hawks some much-needed confidence moving forward.
"It's amazing," he said. "We felt we could compete with them, and we didn't show it the last time we played against them. We were just glad we got to show everyone that we can compete with our district."