By Dennis Atwood -- email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- The Skyline Hawks girls basketball team gained its first win of the season as Jenny Norman broke a combined fourth-quarter scoring drought with a four-footer and scored six of the Hawks' seven fourth-quarter points, while the visiting Liberty Eagles managed only a single field goal in the frame as the Hawks took the non-district squeaker, 31-30, Wednesday evening.
"[Getting the first win] feels really good," Norman said. "I think it will boost our confidence a lot because we've been on a losing streak. Now that we have that first win, we know how to do it and we'll hopefully keep it up."
Norman, a junior, had been wide open in her right forward position several times in the third quarter against Liberty's zone defense, but her teammates didn't get a clear look to get her the ball in a timely manner.
Skyline (1-5) overcame a three-minute scoring drought at the end of the second quarter, and Liberty (2-6) held a 18-17 lead at the half.
Norman tallied two field goals in the first quarter, then was shut out in the second and third frames before scoring the decisive fourth-quarter tallies,. She finished with a team-high 10 points and game-high 13 rebounds for a double-double performance.
"We just needed to keep passing it around, get the zone a little mixed up, then, if it was there, get [the ball] in there and get it up," Norman said.
The third quarter ended with the Eagles leading 28-24, then both teams went into a convincing imitation of a trance, as neither squad scored in the first 3:50 of the fourth quarter.
Then Hawks woke up and got more aggressive as sub Cari Robertson gained a steal and Norman put in a short-range field goal with 4:27 on the clock, drawing Skyline to within 28-26.
"It's kinda discouraging [having a long scoring drought], but once that first basket falls, it pumps the whole team up and just keeps flowing," Norman said.
On the next LIberty possession, Quinn Breeden copped a steal, and sub Alexis Shimp was fouled driving to the bucket deep in the lane.
Shimp made the made the first, but missed the second of a two-shot free-throw opportunity, but Norman grabbed the rebound and was fouled on her drive in the paint.
Norman sank both free throws, giving Skyline a 29-28 lead at the four-minute mark. It was the Hawks' first lead since 2:55 in the second quarter.
Eagles junior forward Lizzy Berger scored her only field goal of the game, on a putback with 2:45 remaining, to return Liberty to the lead, 30-29. They ended up being the Eagles' only points in the quarter, a testament to Skyline's toughened zone defense.
Norman dropped in another layup on an inbounds pass, putting the Hawks back in the lead, 31-30, with 47 seconds on the clock.
With 41 seconds to go, the Hawks' Jordan Christian executed a perfect down-court inbounds toss over Liberty's full-court press that was caught by Breeden in stride beyond half court.
But Breeden missed the layup and Robertson couldn't control the rebound, which went out of bounds.
Liberty was called for a lane violation with at the 28-second mark.
Breeden missed the front end of a one-and-one trip to the line with 18 seconds left, but stole the ball on Liberty's next possession and held it until the buzzer sounded, locking Skyline's 31-30 win in the scorebook.
"I thought we did good at the end," Hawks coach Jim Kenney said. "They wanted to win this first game so bad that they were gonna do whatever it took. I could see it -- they were ready to go."
The Eagles' 6-foot-2 junior forward Kiana Smith dominated in the paint, pouring in a game-high 13 points on six short-range field goals and a free throw through the first three quarters, then experienced a scoreless fourth quarter, unable to connect on five shots.
Freshman guard Ashley Lane added eight points for the Eagles and showed great skill in sinking three floaters within eight feet of the basket.
"[Smith's] gotta be a little tougher," Eagles coach Ashton Mitchell said. "She's gotta work harder for rebounds, square up and finish. If she can do those things, she can definitely score a lot of points and be a huge, huge, huge, threat. But this just wasn't her night."
"Thank goodness, thank goodness [for the win]," Kenney said, "Everybody that played tonight really made a big contribution.
"We're not gonna score a lot of points, so we've gotta play really good defense, which I thought we did. [In the fourth quarter] we wanted to push Smith as far out from the basket as we could because in the second quarter, she just torched us [six points]. [I'm] very happy with the outcome."