By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- It's a good thing a couple missed shots didn't keep Skyline's Taylor Henry down for too long.
Henry made the second of a two-shot foul -- after missing a pair in the final minute -- with 10.9 seconds left Saturday to lift the Hawks to a 55-54 Northwestern District victory over James Wood.
The performance of Henry down the stretch was instrumental for Skyline (8-8, 3-4) in its attempt to avoid the district's upcoming play-in game. James Wood (5-13, 3-3) has games remaining with the Northwestern's top two teams, Millbrook and Handley, and losses in each would force a tie for third and a likely coin flip. The loser of the toss would face last-place Sherando when the district playoffs begin later this week.
It was the second time Skyline and James Wood have gone to the wire this season to decide the outcome. The Colonels took the first meeting, 56-55, and won that one in the final seconds as well.
"The last time we played James Wood we struggled in the last two minutes and they came back," Henry said. "So we definitely have learned to finish. We just keep learning how to make our free throws and how to finish our shots at the end of the game. Everybody goes hard when we play them. It's kind of a rivalry."
It's become somewhat a habit of late for Skyline to mount comebacks. The Hawks had to pull out a two-point win in the final seconds of their previous game, on a Kelsey Corcoran layup with 13 seconds left, on Feb. 4 to beat Sherando. The Hawks fell behind 49-43 after a Whitney Dennis drive with 4:37 left on Saturday before Henry finally got more shots to drop for her.
While James Wood would get just one more basket, Skyline rode Henry to retake the lead. Henry hit a jumper from the foul line to tie the game at 52 with 1:14 left, then stepped inside the lane to hit another shot with 51 seconds left for a 54-52 lead.
The Colonels missed a pair of shots in close on their next trip, and Henry was fouled with 37 seconds left. Henry missed her free throw, and Dennis scored off a drive to re-tie the game with 22 seconds left.
A foul by the Colonels sent Henry back to the line, this time shooting the double-bonus due to a 10th team foul on James Wood. Henry missed her first, but her second shot was clean and the Hawks had a one-point lead.
Skyline coach Jim Kenney used a timeout after Henry's make, to set up his defense on James Wood's final possession. The Hawks played sound defense all over the floor on the inbounds play and the Colonels were forced into a tough shot just before the buzzer that fell harmlessly away from the backboard.
The Hawks got just what they needed from their top two scorers on the season, Henry and Corcoran.
Using her size well, Corcoran dominated inside, scoring a team-best 22 points (9-of-11 shooting), and collecting game-highs of 14 rebounds and five blocks. Corcoran got 10 of her points in the first period, when the Hawks raced out to a 12-1 lead and 18-10 by the end of the quarter.
Henry's production was needed late. Held to eight points through three periods, Henry unloaded for 10 of her 18 in the fourth. She also had five rebounds and five assists.
"I definitely had to block out [missed shots], because it was bringing me down," Henry said. "My shot was off and I wasn't bending my legs. Then I started taking it to the basket and that really helped."
Henry added that her teammates did well to pick up their intensity at the end of the game, and Kenney was glad his team bounced back after losing the lead for the first time late in the third period.
Handling James Wood's pressure defense proved to be a tough task the entire game for the Hawks. Skyline had 26 turnovers, which led to 17 points scored by the Colonels.
With only eight players dressed, Kenney used his starters for the bulk of the game. Starting guard Melissa Thomasson is likely lost for the season with an ankle injury and backup forward Lyndsey Lehew was out of town.
"I think it was a matter of us not being able to handle the intense [defensive] pressure, for whatever reason," Kenney said. "It's something hard to replicate in practice when you have eight girls. But somehow we've got to get better at it."
With Dennis, Heather Armel, and Tori Eaton stepping in passing lanes, or executing traps, James Wood bounced back from its early 11-point deficit to trail only 28-26 at the half. Skyline led by seven in the third period when James Wood went on another big spurt inspired by its defense.
"They're up there with Millbrook, too," Henry said. "They forced us to turn it over. They had good defense up in our face. We panicked and we turned the ball over, but we did keep our composure a little bit better at the end of the game."
The Colonels received a team-best 22 points and seven rebounds from Armel, but the senior 1,000-point career scorer had just three points in the fourth quarter. Eaton added 14 points for James Wood, which put together a 17-4 run bridging the third and fourth quarters to mount its seven-point lead midway through the fourth.
But Skyline closed well and the Colonels, who were playing for the first time since Jan. 29, were left with another tough loss.
"We hadn't played in two weeks and hadn't practiced much," James Wood coach Rhonda Slider said. "We had a slow start, but we had a nice comeback to get back in it. We've had a hard time all season putting four quarters together, and when you don't put four quarters together it's hard to win in basketball."