By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- By now, no one can dispute how deep the Skyline boys basketball team is.
With a share of the Northwestern District regular-season title on the line Tuesday night, Hawks coach Sonny Dyke got just what he needed out of sophomore Joey Neidigh and junior Zach Dove when Cliff Woodard and Luke Pingley each spent plenty of minutes on the bench in foul trouble.
Neidigh buried James Wood from the outside with five 3-pointers and career-best 21 points and Dove, a recent addition to the starting lineup, added 15 points and a huge spark on defense as Skyline won its sixth straight overall and fifth straight in district play with a 69-46 romp to join Handley and Sherando as tri-Northwestern District champs.
"Everything was on the line -- we [wanted] a tie for first," Dove said. "I mean, everybody was ready and everybody was pumped. Certain people step up on certain nights, so I guess it was my turn and Joey's, too."
Handley, Skyline (8-10 overall) and Sherando all finished 5-3 in the Northwestern. The Judges (8-8 overall) will be seeded No. 1 based on their sweep of fourth-place James Wood (8-12 overall, 3-4 district). Sherando (9-11 overall) and Skyline each split their two games with the Colonels.
James Wood's game at Millbrook tonight has been canceled and the Colonels instead will meet No. 5 Millbrook (6-13, 1-6) in the Northwestern play-in game on Thursday night (7 p.m.) at James Wood. The winner of that game will play Handley in the first semifinal on Friday at 6 p.m., and Skyline will face Sherando in the second semifinal at 8 p.m. The entire tournament is being hosted by James Wood.
Skyline was reeling after a couple of non-district losses to Central and Kettle Run, respectively, before turning things around. Included in the win streak was a last-minute, two-point win at Handley.
The win on Tuesday at James Wood represented a 43-point swing from the first meeting with the Colonels, a 20-point Skyline loss on Jan. 12 at home.
"I don't know if any of them are role players anymore," Dyke said. "It's just what the kids do. There are no stars on this team. Every kid can step up and contribute in huge ways."
The Hawks took it right to the Colonels on Tuesday and never trailed during the game. Dove set the tone with a pair of baskets off turnover possessions and Skyline opened a 9-2 lead by the 3:27 mark to force James Wood coach Al Smith to use an early timeout.
On this night, nothing was going to stop the Hawks. Even though both Woodard and Pingley picked up two fouls in the first period and were forced to the bench, others were ready to step up.
That included Neidigh, who scored two points and had no field goals in Saturday's home win over Millbrook. Given space to shoot, Neidigh unloaded in the first half, hitting 5-of-8 shots from 3-point range and getting 18 points before the break.
James Wood was hampered without starting point guard Chris Skinner in the lineup (coaches decision) and the Hawks took full advantage to force plenty of turnovers. Skyline opened a 20-9 lead by the end of the first quarter, with 14 points coming off turnover possessions.
For the game, James Wood finished with 29 turnovers. At the half, the Colonels had just one less turnover (16) than shots taken from the field.
When the second quarter began, Neidigh continued to haunt the Colonels on the wings. The Colonels could not rotate their defense well enough and Neidigh was free to shoot. Neidigh had two 3-pointers in the final two minutes and Ryan Dyke (11 points) hit his only field with a bomb off the right baseline with 20 seconds left that gave Skyline a 35-23 lead at the half.
"I just felt good," Neidigh said. "I hit one 3, then I felt confident and hit another 3, then another 3. I felt like I couldn't miss."
The Colonels got their deficit down to eight in the fourth quarter and a wild sequence that saw the teams combine for three straight turnovers became even more interesting when Smith was called for back-to-back technical fouls and was forced to leave the floor.
Instead of possibly trimming Skyline's lead to six, the Colonels fell behind by 14 when the Hawks got six free throws on their possession. Dyke swished four straight from the foul line and Neidigh hit two more free throws when the Hawks went to the basket on the inbounds play that followed.
By then, the Colonels could sense their time was up. Skyline put together another 20-9 period against James Wood, just like the Hawks did in the first eight minutes.
"Coach Dyke does a great job with those guys," Smith said. "Even he will tell you, that [if] you go individual for individual, are they as talented as Sherando or Handley? No. But they play so hard and they play so well together. I admire what he's doing there."
When senior reserve guard Josh Butler put the exclamation point on Skyline's victory with the team's ninth 3-point basket with three seconds left to play (he, too, was wide open), the Hawks could jump for joy and allow Sonny Dyke to gain his first district title as a boys coach (he's in his ninth season, including six at Warren County).
Trae Tinsman had 13 points for James Wood.