By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- Clarke County freshman Sean McDonald scored only two points for the Eagles during their boys basketball game Monday against Skyline.
Those two points, however, proved to be the most important of the game. Leading 48-46 with just 43 seconds left in the game, McDonald stepped to the free-throw line for a 1-and-1, and nailed both free throws to put Clarke County up 50-46.
It was all the margin the Eagles (4-4) needed to topple the Hawks 51-48, and avenge an earlier loss to Skyline (5-2). The Eagles lost to the Hawks in the opening game of the season for both teams.
"I'm really proud of our guys," Eagles coach Brent Emmart said. "It wasn't a pretty game. It was low scoring, and it was a real grind out there on every possession. But we've improved a lot since we played them in the first game of the season."
McDonald's free throws were the story of the game in more ways than one. Both teams were uncharacteristically bad from the line over the first three quarters. The Hawks had managed just 3 of 9 from the line, and the Eagles were even worse, hitting just 1 of 5 attempts.
But with the game on the line heading into the final quarter, and Clarke County hanging on to a slim 36-32 lead, it was free throws that made the difference.
After trailing from the first shot of the game, Skyline slowly worked its way back and tied the score 38-38 with 6:41 left in the game on a 3-pointer by Ryan Dyke. Just one minute later, Dyke hit a pair of free throws to put the Hawks ahead for the first time in the game, 40-38 with 5:32 left.
Dyke, who had a game-high 20 points, shot a perfect 4-for-4 from the line during the final period. Unfortunately for Skyline, he was the only player to make a free throw in the quarter. The rest of the team was 0-for-4, and that proved fatal.
"The whole ballgame came down to us not making our free throws," Skyline coach Sonny Dyke said. "They were a huge part of the ballgame, and when it counted, they made theirs and we didn't. We've actually done well with our free throws in the rest of our games. This was just one time when they just wouldn't fall."
The Eagles narrowed Skyline's lead to 42-41 over the next three minutes, and Ethan Emmart got Clarke County the lead by hitting three straight free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt by Joey Neidigh with 2:54 left in the game.
"Ethan hit three big foul shots after being fouled in the corner," Brent Emmart said. "Our freshman, Sean McDonald, really made two more big ones for us, and Jared Ramey also made some clutch free throws down the stretch, too."
Try as they might, the Hawks could not overcome the clutch free-throw shooting by the Eagles who went 5 of 6 over the final minute of play. After hitting just 20 percent over the first three periods, Clarke County was 8 of 10 over the final eight minutes of play.
The Eagles jumped ahead early in the first quarter, beginning the game with a 7-2 run. Skyline fought back to narrow Clarke County's lead to 13-11 heading into the second period.
Eagles point guard Davey Hardesty led the way for Clarke County, scoring seven of his 11 points in the opening quarter.
The Eagles were able to expand their lead in the second period, getting critical points from post players Jared Ramey and Alex Sefton. Ramey scored six of his 13 points in the period, and Sefton added two more to put Clarke County up 27-20 at halftime.
Ramey and Sefton were the beneficiaries of an up-tempo game employed by the Eagles that gave both of them several opportunities for easy layups.
After halftime, the Hawks solved that problem, making scoring difficult for Clarke County and allowing Skyline to get back into the game.
Colton Ratcliffe led a Hawks resurgence in the third quarter, hitting two of his three 3-pointers for the night. Skyline narrowed the Eagles' lead to just two, 34-32, on Ratcliffe's second 3-pointer with just 1:35 left in the period.
"Despite the loss, we're very happy where we are so far this season," Sonny Dyke said. "We've certainly exceeded our expectations at this point in the season."
Ethan Emmart led Clarke County with 15 points.
"We can certainly improve, but overall we're making better decisions," Brent Emmart said. "We're not wasting possessions like we were at the beginning of the year."