By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline needed to shake off a sluggish start against visiting Clarke County on Monday, but the Hawks were able to pick up their seventh consecutive victory to open the season.
Skyline picked up a 55-45 win over the Eagles, improving its perfect record to 7-0.
Neither offense had much success knocking down jump shots on offense, but the Hawks used solid defensive play as a unit to create turnovers and keep cold-shooting Clarke County to plenty of one-and-done possessions. Skyline finished with a 26-17 rebound advantage, and won the turnover battle by forcing 20 Clarke County turnovers while giving up just nine.
"I think the secret's out on us. Like most successful teams, defense and rebounding are going to lead to transition points for you, or at least limit your opponent's looks on the offensive end," Hawks coach Jacob Bates said. "We weren't knocking it down, so we had to turn to the intangibles."
A large chunk of Skyline's offense came when the Hawks were able to get the ball into the paint, whether it was by driving to the basket on isolation plays or pushing the ball ahead in transition.
Skyline's half-court offense was at its best when it was able to get its ball-handlers in one-on-one opportunities. Senior Dayvon Haight enjoyed a bulk of the success in the Hawks' isolation sets, as the guard scored a game-high 16 points, mostly on layups after beating the defense on the drive.
"Our coaches knew that we were a little bit more athletic and we could use our speed to our advantage," Haight said. "We just tried to isolate and create shots for ourselves."
Skyline (7-0) came out flat in the opening period as Clarke County (2-5) took an 11-7 lead after the first eight minutes. The Eagles extended the lead to 18-11 when senior Davey Hardesty (12 points) hit a layup in transition with 4:45 left in the first half.
But then Skyline seemed to suddenly awaken from its offensive lull, and the Hawks scored on buckets by Haight, Hunter Stewart and Kylmen Breeden -- all in the paint -- on three straight possessions to cut the Eagles' lead to 18-17.
Haight split the defense for a layup later in the quarter to draw Skyline to within a point once again, and Casey Stewart knocked down a rare jumper near the free-throw line to give Skyline its first lead of the game at 21-20.
"We played good for a quarter and a half, then we had some bad possessions," Eagles coach Brent Emmart said. "We had a hard time scoring in the second half, and they did a good job with their offense getting some good looks."
The Hawks broke the game open in the third period as they continued to distribute the ball inside against Clarke County's man-to-man defense.
The Eagles cut Skyline's lead to four points on a pair of free throws by Hardesty with 3:17 left in the period, but the Hawks used an 8-0 run over the next two minutes to take a 39-27 lead. Clarke County was able to cut into the deficit with a 3-pointer by Sean McDonald and a short jumper by Joshua Dulaney to end the third period.
Skyline quickly took its largest lead of the night in the fourth period as two free throws by Breeden made the score 49-35 with 3:48 to play. Clarke County was able to cut the lead back to nine points on a bucket in the paint by Todd Benton (team-high 13 points) with 1:56 left, but that was as close as the Eagles would get.
Breeden powered the Hawks through the final period, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. Eight of Breeden's fourth-period points came in the paint as the Hawks continually attacked the basket against Clarke County's full-court pressure.
"That's our style of play -- attacking the basket," Breeden said. "We're a transition team, so it's kind of easy when teams press up against us. We can all run."
Skyline has played five home games already this season, but all of that will change as the Hawks prepare to hit the road for three games to close out the week, beginning with a trip to Brentsville on Wednesday.
"We're actually excited about it -- we're excited about the three games in four days," Bates said. "We're going to hit the road. That's our theme the next few days -- we're going to be road warriors."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com