By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Skyline's boys basketball team has had trouble scoring this season, particularly against teams that like to push the ball up and down the court.
The Hawks prefer to slow the tempo of the game and work their half-court offense, but the problem is that the Northwestern District is full of teams that like to push the pace of the game.
In Monday's Northwestern District tournament play-in game at Millbrook High School, fourth-seeded James Wood was able to keep the pace of the game in overdrive and the No. 5 Hawks couldn't keep up as the Colonels grabbed a 63-44 win to advance to the tournament semifinals on Wednesday against top-seeded Sherando.
Skyline fell into a 13-point hole by halftime but was able to hold James Wood to just 23 points in the second half. Unfortunately for the Hawks, they turned in one of their poorest shooting performances of the season, shooting just 29.7 percent (19 of 64) in the game, and couldn't find the offense to overcome the deficit.
"We put ourselves in a good position in the third quarter, clawing back into it," Hawks coach Jacob Bates said. "But if you don't score the basketball you're not going to win many games, especially in our district, which is extremely competitive."
James Wood held a 40-27 lead at halftime after using an 11-0 run in the second period to take control of what had been a competitive game through the first 10 minutes.
But the Colonels, who rely heavily on 3-pointers, went cold from the floor in the third period. Skyline was able to capitalize with a 6-0 run, fueled by back-to-back buckets in the paint by junior Casey Stewart, to open the second half that cut the lead to seven points with 4:50 to go in the frame.
Skyline held James Wood scoreless for nearly the first four minutes of the third quarter before Colonels junior Ryland Williams converted a traditional three-point play to push the lead to 43-33 with 4:10 left in the period. That began a 7-2 Colonels run to end the period, with James Wood holding a 47-35 lead entering the final quarter.
James Wood (10-13) hit just 3 of 17 (17.6 percent) shots in the third quarter, but Skyline was nearly just as bad, shooting just 20 percent (4 for 20) while also turning the ball over seven times.
"We held them to seven and we scored eight. There was definitely a window there to get right back in this game," Bates said. "We just played here [on Saturday against Millbrook] and we didn't score the basketball that poorly. I'm not sure what we ate today, but that's one of our poorest shooting performances of the season."
Skyline tried desperately to chip into the deficit in the final period and the Hawks managed to cut the Colonels' lead back to single digits when senior Nick Helmick (nine points) scored in the paint with 4:42 left in the game.
But James Wood answered right back with a runner by Williams to make the score
53-42, and James Wood ended the night on a 12-2 run.
Williams led all scorers with 22 points, and Michael Carter and Brett Lewin each added 10 points for James Wood.
Stewart was the lone Hawk in double figures with 10 points.
James Wood shot a respectable 41.7 percent (25 of 60) from the field, but managed just a 7-for-30 (23.3 percent) mark from beyond the 3-point arc. Colonels coach Al Smith said defense was the key to James Wood's win on Monday.
"I thought we had one of our best defensive games of the year, which couldn't have come at a better time," Smith said. "I didn't think we played that great offensively, but we played well enough to do what we needed to do."
Skyline's season started as a promising one as the Hawks began 11-1, but Skyline ended its season by losing eight of its final 10 games. Skyline's struggles began when district play started on Jan. 8, and the Hawks managed just one district win -- an 81-67 win over the Colonels on Jan. 15 -- this season.
"The teams in our district love to score the ball. Those teams we played early on are a little bit more fitting for us pace-wise ... they are slow it down, half-court teams," Bates said. "Our district is up and down, run and gun. Scoring the basketball has been our Achilles heel all season."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org