By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- When a team goes on a winning streak, they have that feeling of confidence that things are going to go OK in tight games.
Skyline's boys basketball team proved it could play better in the last eight minutes again on Saturday, outscoring Millbrook 18-9 in the fourth period and winning its fifth straight, 58-50, to remain in the hunt for a share of the Northwestern District regular season title.
"Emotionally, mentally, we are there and we are together," Hawks coach Sonny Dyke said. "Those are the intangible things that I see. It's the first and the last thing we mentioned in [the locker room] -- mental toughness. Really, in every aspect, it's been fun to watch."
The Hawks (7-10, 4-3) still have a chance to tie Handley and Sherando for first place in the Northwestern should they win at James Wood on Tuesday. A loss to the Colonels would likely put Skyline in the district tournament play-in game on Thursday against Millbrook, since James Wood would hold the head-to-head advantage with the Hawks.
Not that the Hawks are looking to slow down.
"Especially with this win streak going on, we're really focused on going to the [district] playoffs and winning the tournament," said Skyline forward Luke Pingley, who contributed a double-double Saturday with his 13 points and 12 rebounds. "But we'll focus [first] on James Wood [on] Tuesday."
Both teams showed little rust from having more than a week off due to recent snows. Neither squad held more than a four-point lead and the game was tied at 33 heading into halftime.
However, during that 10-minute break before the start of the third period, Dyke dropped over to visit with senior Cliff Woodard and offered him the task of trying to slow Millbrook's season scoring leader, Devin Call, in the second half.
All the speedy Woodard did was hold Call to four second-half points. Call led the Pioneers (6-13, 1-6) with 15 points, but made just 1-of-6 shots from the field in the second half.
"Coach [Dyke] challenged me at halftime and I stayed on [Call] the rest of the game," Woodard said. "We forced them into a lot of bad shots and played as a team."
Though both teams suffered through a listless third period, (a combined 15 points on 4-of-29 shooting) Skyline clearly had the edge on both ends when the fourth period began.
With his first two made baskets coming from behind the arc, Pingley moved in closer and used his frame to win matchups inside and scored Skyline's first six points of the fourth.
"I had a mismatch on me, so that was a good reason for me to score," Pingley said. "I could just post up on them, because they didn't have a big man inside."
Millbrook got a couple of field goals in the first few minutes, but after Rylan Banks scored off a drive with 5:32 left, the Pioneers made just one more basket.
"It's our defense -- our defense leads to our offense," Woodard said. "We get easy shots and fast-break points."
With the Hawks down a point, Cameron Taylor (11 points) nailed a 3-pointer with 3:23 left to kick-start a 12-3 Skyline run to finish the game.
Zach Dove followed with a stickback off a Woodard miss in transition, and Woodard (game-high 16 points) slashed his way through the lane to hit a twisting layup. Two free throws by Woodard with 1:44 left gave Skyline a 55-49 lead, and Millbrook never got closer than six after that.
"In the fourth quarter we played really hard and smart," Pingley said. "We were hitting shots and played together. That's what got it done."
Millbrook simply could not keep up in the second half. The Pioneers made just 5-of-26 field goals (19 percent) and 7-of-16 free throws (44 percent) for their 17 second-half points.
"I thought we made some great passes during that [second half] stretch, but we missed layups, missed free throws, and threw the ball in the stands," Millbrook coach Scott Mankins said. "Overall, I think Skyline came out and looked like they were hungry and wanted to be playing ball today, and our guys looked like they would much rather be doing something else."
To make up for scoring just 25 second-half points, the Hawks flourished with their work on the defensive end. Skyline forced Millbrook into 12 of its 21 turnovers in the second half.
"We were just defensively playing a little better," Dyke said. "We rebounded the ball better. I thought our legs were surprisingly good. I didn't know what to expect after one day of practice [due to all the snow forcing postponements]. It was a grind, but that's generally what our season's been like."
The Pioneers got a double-double from Boomer Kaczmarzewski, who scored 11 points and had a game-high 18 rebounds.