By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- There's always an element of mystery surrounding a team's first game.
It could be a collection of new faces on a roster, adjusting to a new scheme on the court or seeing an opponent for the first time, but unpredictability always seems to accompany an opening game.
Brent Emmart had that feeling heading into Clarke County's first game against Skyline on Tuesday night, not quite knowing what to expect from his team.
What he saw was a team that, despite an icy-cold first half from the floor, used an aggressive surge in the third and fourth quarters to earn a key road victory, beating the Hawks, 62-56. Clarke County shot just 32 percent in the first half, but made 15 field goals over the final two quarters to pick up the win.
"I wasn't sure what I was going to see from this team," Emmart said. "It wasn't pretty, that's for sure. We were jittery in the first half, missed a lot of easy shots from close range and weren't moving around. Fortunately our guys got it together over the last quarter and a half and executed, but this was an ugly win."
It was an ugly first quarter, especially for the Eagles. Clarke County (1-0) shot just 3-of-14 from the floor and had trouble containing Skyline's lethal guard play, which accumulated 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Zack Henry had six of his 10 points in the opening quarter and Zack Dove added four of his own to give the Hawks (2-1) a 10-point cushion after eight minutes.
The second quarter nearly saw Clarke County take its first lead of the game. With just over a minute left in the half, baskets from sophomore Davey Hardesty and senior Matt Moyer trimmed Skyline's lead to just three points, swinging momentum to the Eagles' side for the first time all game. Ryan Dyke made sure any spark would be short-lived, however. The Hawks' forward hit his final three shots of the half, including a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left to balloon Skyline's lead back to 10 at halftime.
"We were making our shots and doing a good job of spreading the ball around early on," guard Eli McEathron said. "I didn't have a good game shooting, but our guys were making their shots in the first half. We just have to keep that up for an entire game."
If the first half belonged to Skyline, Tuesday's third quarter belonged to Clarke County forward Ron Anderson. After hearing from Emmart about the team's lack of aggressiveness at halftime, Anderson led the way for the Eagles' offensive attack, driving to the basket with each possession and scoring six of his 10 points in the quarter. Anderson was a perfect 3-for-3 in the period, and field goals from Stephan Bodkin, Ethan Emmart, Grant Shaw and Hardesty helped trim the deficit to just four points heading into the fourth quarter.
"We did a better job of getting to the rim and making our shots," Anderson said. "That first half, we weren't playing very well and it was frustrating watching our shots fall short."
It took just 90 seconds in the fourth quarter for Clarke County's comeback attempt to reach its peak. After trailing the entire game, Emmart nailed a 3-pointer to give the Eagles a 46-44 advantage with 6:30 left. Despite the shift in momentum, however, Skyline wasn't about to simply go away. Baskets from Joey Neidigh and Cameron Taylor bounced the lead between the two teams as the game reached the three-minute mark. Then, a 7-0 run from the Eagles helped seal Clarke County's opening win and give Skyline its first loss of the season.
Neidigh had nine points in the loss while Taylor finished with a game-high 16 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter.
"We need to play better," Emmart said. "With our nondistrict schedule, we play a lot of tough teams, including a tough trip on Friday to Sherando, and then we've got a tough district to compete in. There's no question we have to improve and fast, but we're glad to get out of here with a win."