By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- "The Book of Eli" is playing at nearby Royal Cinemas.
A few miles away, at Skyline High School, one of its own, Eli McEathron, was providing a five-star performance against Sherando and getting a rave review from his coach with his shooting Thursday night to keep the Hawks surging.
With McEathron providing 12 points off the bench in the Hawks' fourth straight win, a 55-44 decision over the slumping Warriors, the Northwestern District race was thrown a monkey wrench.
"[McEathron] can be very streaky, but the shots he took were good shots," Skyline coach Sonny Dyke said. "It's a major contribution there."
Losses the last two nights to Handley and Skyline have dropped the Warriors (9-10 overall) to 5-3 in district play. Three other teams are in the mix for the regular-season title: James Wood is 3-2 (in the Northwestern), Handley is 4-3, and Skyline (6-10 overall) is 3-3.
"You take care of your business and you're going to get a share of the crown," Dyke said. "Maybe [Thursday's win] put us in position to stay out of the play-in game. There was a lot of positives with these kids tonight."
Sherando has completed district play, but Skyline and James Wood are scheduled to play tonight in Winchester, though that matchup is doubtful with the impending snowstorm forecast for the area.
Playing for the first time since beating Handley 64-62 on Jan. 28, Skyline came out flat, scoring eight first-period points. The Hawks were stuck on 13 points late in the first half and had made one field goal in the second period when McEathron entered the game for the first time.
Talk about instant offense. McEathron went hard to the basket off a turnover possession, made his shot and was fouled. McEathron completed his three-point play, then the 5-foot-6 junior nailed a 3-pointer off the left wing on Skyline's next trip down to narrow Sherando's lead to 26-19 at the half.
When the second half began, McEathron stayed hot and Skyline made more of an impact on defense.
While holding the Warriors to five points in the third period, the Hawks used an 11-0 run to seize control of the game. McEathron knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and Cameron Taylor scored the other five points as Skyline opened a four-point lead.
"I just try to step in and do my job whenever I can," said McEathron of his career-high performance. "I just play my role and try and win for the team."
The Hawks put the game away with nine straight points to begin the fourth, capped by a Cliff Woodard drive for a 41-31 lead with 5:26 left.
From there, Skyline enjoyed several 12-point leads and never let Sherando get closer than eight.
"It's pretty exciting going from not playing so well at the beginning of the year to playing and now having a shot to get first place," McEathron said. "I guess what has helped is playing together, playing hard and being smart. That was big to keep the lead late and get the win."
The Hawks again had plenty of balance. Woodard led all scorers with 13 points, getting 10 in the second half. Taylor had all nine of his after the break, and Kyle Phillips finished with eight points.
"The contributions of so many kids, it's almost mind-boggling to us how these kids have stepped up and performed," Dyke said. "The killer instinct at the end of the game -- when we got a little bit of a lead we kept being aggressive and kept getting to the rim."
The defense of Luke Pingley on Sherando's 6-foot-7 center Terry Wood made a difference in the second half. Wood went scoreless and had only three rebounds over the last two periods, and finished the game with nine points (3-of-11 shooting) and nine rebounds.