By Jim Laise - email@example.com
QUICKSBURG -- Colton Harlow shot unconsciously in the first quarter Friday night, but saved the best for last as Stonewall Jackson hammered Buffalo Gap, 78-56, in Shenandoah District play.
Harlow knocked down four baskets, including three 3-pointers in the opening quarter as the Generals (6-8 overall, 4-5 district) doubled up the Bison 20-10, but it was what the 5-foot-8 junior guard did in the fourth that thwarted the Bison (0-17, 0-9) when they were threatening a run.
For Stonewall, not only did it sustain at least a tie with Riverheads (3-5 entering weekend action) for sixth place in the Shenandoah, the two victories over the Bison during the regular season (57-50 on Dec. 14) represented the first sweep of any kind for the Generals since the 2003-04 season, according to coach Patrick Smoot, a former player.
"That year we beat Strasburg three times, including the Northern Virginia Daily Tournament, so this has to be the first time since then," Smoot said.
Certainly in the Shenandoah District it has to be the first sweep, since the Generals had not won a single league game in the previous six years. Last campaign, they won one game altogether.
The 22-point victory also broke a three-game losing streak for Stonewall. Prior to this game, Smoot's team had dropped four of the last five.
Harlow finished the game with 17 points, but he was one of four teammates who registered double figures in the victory. Ryan Smith led all scorers with 19 points, 15 of which came in the first half. Daniel Buhl had 14 and Corey Polk totaled 12 for the winners.
Three players scored in double figures for Coach Patrick Weller's Bison -- Sam Morgan had a team-high 13, Matt Woods notched 15 and freshman Tristan Anderson registered 10.
"I haven't seen the scorebook, but the kids fed on those early baskets and then everybody got involved," Smoot said. "When we were playing with our tempo and our speed, we were real confident. We were going fast, maybe too fast. We got in early foul trouble, and we had to step back. But we came back when we had to. I'm proud of our guys."
With Harlow knocking down 13 points and Smith, who leads the area from beyond the 3-point arc (his 47.2 percent from distance outdistances his 2-point rate, 46.3) the Generals cruised to a 44-28 halftime lead.
In one stint -- beginning midway from the first quarter to the first basket of the second -- Stonewall dropped five straight treys for a 23-10 lead with 7:25 to go in the half.
After that, Buffalo Gap wrapped a pair of 3-pointers around a Corey Polk layup for the Generals, to cut into the Stonewall lead to 25-16.
It was 27-18 with 4:10 left in the half, but the Generals' defense tightened and the Bison would fail to register another field goal until 5:20 left in the third. By that time, Stonewall had run its lead to 55-23.
However, Harlow picked up his third foul early in the second half and sat beside Smoot until early in the fourth quarter. With the point guard and several others benched due to foul issues, Buffalo Gap took advantage.
It outscored Stonewall Jackson 10-2 from the three-minute mark of period three to the first minute, 15 of the final period. It was 59-37 with 6:45 to go when Smoot brought Harlow back.
Almost immediately, he drilled a two for a 61-47 advantage with 6:13 left and the Bison failed to come closer again. At 5:14 Harlow picked up his fourth foul, but he was able to knocked down one of two free throws and 2:11 and make it 71-52.
"Coach got me ready and my mind focused," said Harlow of his long demotion on the bench. "The first quarter really picked up my confidence. I had been losing that, so that was good.
"It's amazing all this stuff has been thrown at us and we've been successful. It comes from a new coach [Smoot], coach [Roger] Wilkins has been instrumental and Corey Polk came out. He's really helped us," Harlow said.
"The kid's a player," said Smoot. "We've been trying to get him so his defense matches his offense on the same page. He's our point guard. The kids follow him and will go as far as he will take them. He's really stepping up, but it hasn't been just a one-man show," said Smoot.
Seven of the nine Generals scored and Matthew Litten, who was held scoreless, had three rebounds. Buhl added four rebounds and Polk pitched in with four and a block.
Buffalo Gap was 11-of-11 from the free-throw line in the first half, but 4 of 11 in the second half.