By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Ryan Dyke put all negative thoughts out of his mind.
The Skyline senior had missed all three 3-pointers he had taken. The entire team had struggled shooting for most of the night. With the game on the line, Dyke didn't think about any of that. He calmly stepped up and nailed an open 3-pointer to put Skyline up for good in a 54-50 road victory over Warren County on Friday night.
"I knew my shooting had been a little off the whole game, but I just didn't think about that," Dyke said. "I really didn't think about anything. I was open and I just took it and it went in."
The Hawks (5-1) struggled to find the basket for a stretch of 2:16 in the fourth quarter, which allowed the Wildcats (3-2) to build a 45-42 lead. It didn't help that Joey Neidigh, who had hit the Hawks' only two field goals of the quarter, picked up his fourth foul with 4:57 left in the game and had to sit on the bench.
A free throw by Kylmen Breeden and Aaron Jeremiah cut the lead to 45-44 with 3:46 left.
Dyke then began to take over. He scored inside the paint on two consecutive possessions to help give Skyline a 48-47 edge with 2:07 left.
A free throw by Dakota Pratscher tied the game at 48. Jeremiah scored on a putback, and a driving layup by Warren County's Matt Nicholson tied the game at 50-50 with 42 seconds left.
That set up Dyke's big shot.
"I was just thinking, 'That's Mr. Clutch right there,'" Neidigh said of Dyke's 3-pointer. "I've known Ryan since we were little. I was like, 'We got this one.'"
A bad pass on the Wildcats' next possession was picked off by Skyline's Marcus Turner, who was fouled and made a free throw to seal the win.
Skyline struggled offensively throughout the first half, as Warren County's 2-3 and 3-2 zones gave the Hawks fits. They had trouble getting good looks from outside, and the Wildcats were able to build a 24-18 lead late in the second quarter.
Warren County's Pratscher, Sam Catalani and Nathan Almarode each scored a basket to help give the Wildcats a 30-23 lead with 5:01 left in the third quarter.
Skyline rallied, led by the play of Neidigh. The senior scored eight points, including two 3-pointers, during a 12-4 run to give Skyline a 35-34 lead with 1:49 remaining in the quarter.
"In the first half we just would make one pass and shoot it, and that wasn't working," Neidigh said. "In the second half, we started finding gaps in the zone and things really opened up for us."
Both coaches were pleased with their team's effort, especially in a big rivalry game with a packed crowd.
"This is what a rivalry should be like," Skyline coach Sonny Dyke said. "Warren County played great. They played their hearts out. My heart really goes out to them."
The Wildcats were led by Pratscher with 18 points. Nicholson had 13 points, and Almarode added 11 for the Wildcats. Warren County had 19 turnovers in the game.
"I think I would have to say turnovers were probably the key to the game," Warren County coach Vernon Mathews said. "I told the kids I was disappointed that we lost, but I'm not disappointed in how they played.
"We just have to keep improving every single game."
Ryan Dyke had 20 points to lead the Hawks, while Neidigh added 16. Jeremiah had nine points and 12 rebounds for the Hawks.
The season is young, but the Hawks have already shown the ability to pull out close games like the one on Friday night. Neidigh said a big part of that is the team's belief in each other.
"We just keep believing that things are going to go our way," Neidigh said. "We play with a lot of composure, a lot of poise. That's one thing coach Dyke is always saying to us -- that we have to play with poise. I think that's what we try to do."