By Robert Edmonds - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The Skyline boys basketball team hopped on the bus Saturday evening looking to end a three-game losing streak as they took on cross town rival Warren County. The Hawks have struggled recently; losing five of their last six games, and knew that completing a season sweep of the Wildcats would not be an easy task.
Both teams were on the tail end of a five-day stretch that included three games entering the night and hoped to conclude the run with a victory. The intensity of the rivalry was present as the game got underway with the teams trading blows during the first half.
It was in the second half, however, that Skyline was able to pull away and ultimately deliver the knockout blow leaving the gym with a 62-41 victory.
"Our guys rededicated themselves in practice after the Fauquier loss and have really been working hard to get things back on track," Hawks coach Jacob Bates said. "We didn't see immediate results, but I think we were able to see improvements and this was big for our team to get some profits from all the hard work they have put in and help us continue to make that push."
The Hawks jumped out to a quick lead after back-to-back 3-pointers from Dayvon Haight and Kylmen Breeden made the score 9-1. Warren County didn't back down, and after a timeout roared back behind the inside presence of Blake Steele.
Steele recorded eight of the Wildcats final 10 points in the quarter while making an impact in the low post with the Hawks struggling to contain him. The junior's success at the free-throw line contributed to his scoring output finishing the first 5 for 6 from the charity stripe.
Warren County drew to within three points, but could not get any closer in the first half with Skyline having an answer to each Wildcat run. Casey Stewart led the way on offense for the Hawks in the second with seven points and helped the Hawks enter halftime with a 30-24 lead.
While it appeared that Skyline was able to key in with their defensive play inside as the first half closed, when the second half began it was apparent that the Hawks wanted to turn their defense up another notch.
"This is a rivalry game and it takes a few minutes into the game to feel each other out," Bates said. "We started the night flat on defense, and we did a good job of coming out the second half with more energy."
The Hawks were able to pressure the Wildcats into slowing the pace of their run-first offense, and made Warren County look to create farther from the basket leading to poor shot opportunities and turnovers. Although the Hawks weren't successful on every offensive opportunity, they managed to generate enough to build their first double-digit lead of the night heading into the final period of play.
"They did a good job of denying the entrance pass, and they really concentrated on their help defense," Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said. "They did a good job on their end of making adjustments as a team at halftime and they were able to slow down the tempo and take us out of our game."
The Wildcats made a brief push early in the fourth to get back in the game, but they could not manage to trim the deficit eventually leading to the loss. Matt Nicholson finished the night as the leading scorer in the game with 19 points, while Steele contributed 15 for the Wildcats.
"I think we did a good job on the glass tonight and that was a key, I thought, entering the game," Mathews said. "We played with a lot of energy on defense, and we were able to keep the game close, but we weren't able to have much success shooting the ball. Right now we are fighting for our life to get in the Evergreen tournament, and we have to play our best basketball heading down the stretch."
Skyline ended the game with nine players in the scoring column including three in double digits. With the victory, the Hawks look to gain momentum with the season winding down and the Northwestern District tournament looming ever closer.
"This win helps us to gain some momentum, but we have a couple more very important games left in the season," Bates said. "We played some top tier teams during this three-game run and with back-to-back games [Friday] night and [Saturday], our legs were good. We have some things we have to work on, but if we continue the efforts these guys have been putting in, we hope to be as good as we possibly can come tournament time."