By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- Skyline managed to pick up the tempo by slowing down the pace against East Hardy (W.Va.) in Saturday night's Ram Hardwood Classic consolation game at Strasburg High School.
The Hawks, who still held a halftime lead despite largely sputtering against the Cougars' 2-3 zone through the first two quarters, elected to take drastic measures to shake up a static game. Skyline coach Jacob Bates had his team simply hold onto the ball and force East Hardy to come out and defend. It worked, as the Cougars eventually loosened the zone and the Hawks started making baskets on the way to a 39-25 victory.
"The guys didn't hesitate," Bates said. "That's the first time we've taken the air out of the ball like that, and we ended up even getting some good offensive looks out of it. We didn't want to not shoot the ball, we just wanted to make them understand and feel a greater sense of urgency to come out and play and get out of that zone."
The victory was the first of the season for Skyline (1-7), and denied East Hardy (0-6) that elusive first 'W.'
East Hardy coach Chris Hahn would have preferred to stay in that zone all night, but a five-point deficit heading into the third quarter forced his hand when the Hawks started burning minutes off the game clock. In one possession early in the third quarter, Skyline held the ball for nearly four minutes.
Considering his team's own offensive difficulties -- East Hardy hit just 7 of 43 field-goal attempts for 16.3 percent from the field -- Hahn's hand was forced by the slow-down tactic.
"When you shoot that poorly, you're not going to win -- you're not going to compete," Hahn said. "I was pretty proud of the fact that our defense kept us in the game. We packed it in on them pretty good and really frustrated them. And until he decided to go stall-ball and pulled it out to try to run four corners on us and just clock us to death, we had them in a good position. When he forced us to come out and guard there when he had a little bit of a lead, that caused us a little bit of trouble."
Down 18-13 to start the third quarter, the Cougars weathered that initial slow-down and even narrowed the gap to just two points when Michael Miller nailed a 3-pointer from the corner with 4:10 left in the quarter.
Skyline started breaking through after that, as Trayquan Diamond and Jamal Parker both scored on drives in the lane to spark a pivotal 11-0 run that put the game away. Parker finished with a game-high nine points and Diamond added eight for the Hawks, who steadily pulled away from there.
Breaking through for that first victory despite another tough night on offense was a bonus the Hawks have been waiting for all season.
"Hopefully this will change some things and make us want to play harder and want to win more games," Hawks senior guard Jerrius Baltimore said. "It took awhile -- in practice we work hard, it's just game time sometimes we freeze up. We're not knocking down shots like we normally do, and it just goes bad. Now we're moving forward."
Ryan Franks led East Hardy with eight points, all coming in the fourth quarter.
"We rely a lot on our sophomores to score, and tonight they just looked lost," Hahn said. "We couldn't throw the ball in the ocean tonight. You'll have nights like that, but you would expect that we should at least be able to go inside and score a little bit."
Josh Smeltzer also had eight points for Skyline, and Antwan Swain finished with a game-high 10 rebounds for the Hawks.
"The guys come to work every day," Bates said. "They haven't paid too much attention, I don't think, to our record. But there's no doubt that at some point it starts to take a toll on you mentally, so it's nice to get a little bit of a reward for your effort."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>