By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- The best defense against Skyline High School senior Shayne Clifton on Friday night was to simply keep her off the court.
Host Warren County managed that for most of the second quarter, but in the remaining three Clifton did plenty of damage with a deadly shooting touch to propel the Hawks to a 53-41 girls basketball victory.
Clifton, a senior forward, was 7 of 8 from the field and drilled four 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 25 points as Skyline (2-5) erased a seven-point halftime deficit to top its cross-town rival.
"I've been shooting a lot and they're finally falling for me," Clifton said. "I'm excited about that. I just need to have confidence during the game to take my shots."
Clifton, finally healthy after three injury-plagued seasons, came out firing to open the game. She scored nine of the Hawks' 11 first-quarter points. Skyline needed them all, as Warren County (3-4) opened the game looking sharp. Senior shooting guard Alesha Adams paced the Wildcats with a point a minute in the first eight to push her team to a 15-11 lead.
With Clifton on the sideline after picking up her second foul, the Wildcats stretched their lead a bit in the second quarter. Adams notched six more points, and Samantha Schroyer's jumper with 1:30 left gave Warren County a 23-16 halftime lead.
Despite that seven-point deficit, Skyline coach Jim Kenney was fairly serene in the locker room at the break.
"We didn't' play that bad in the first half," Kenney said. "These games, the girls are always a little nervous when they come out. Warren County, I thought they came out pretty strong. But we weathered it, we scored some points and it was a seven-point deficit at halftime.
"I told them in the locker room that we've been a second-half team all year, so it's time to turn it up a notch. And we did."
Skyline's Quinn Breeden (17 points) gave her team a boost with a pair of buckets to open the third quarter, including a 3-pointer that pulled the Wildcats within four at 25-21. Warren County's Jordyn Beckner answered with a basket off an inbounds play, and then the Hawks produced a decisive 10-0 run. Breeden and Clifton each hit 1 of 2 free throws, then Clifton buried a 3-pointer from the corner. Another turnover, one of five for Warren County in the quarter, gave the Hawks a fast-break opportunity and Breeden followed the initial miss with a putback to give Skyline a 28-27 lead.
Warren County coach John Kelly thought the next minute, though scoreless, was pivotal. Following a jump ball call, game officials overruled the scorer's table and awarded Skyline possession. Kelly argued the call at length, to no avail.
"You can't change the rulebook," Kelly said. "The book is the official possession keeper and scorekeeper, and all three people on the bench were in agreement, but they decided to change it. That's not right."
Skyline finished out the final 2:26 by outscoring the Wildcats 6-1 to grab a 34-28 lead. Clifton had 10 of those points, and Breeden tallied the other eight.
"That changed the entire game around for us," Kelly said of the disputed possession decision. "It was a spark for them."
The Wildcats were still within six after Vanessa Calevro's basket on a drive through the paint, but the Hawks' Jenny Norman responded with a basket inside and Clifton stroked another 3-pointer to push the lead to 41-30 with 5:31 to play. Breeden completed 9-0 run by sinking a jumper and a pair of free throws as the Hawks took command with a 15-point lead.
"I was telling them to bring the ball out and take some time off the clock, but Shayne was shooting the ball so well tonight, Quinn was shooting well, and the shots just falling."
Adams, who finished with a team-high 19 points, said the Wildcats once more came out cold to start the second half and it cost them.
"Once we can break us coming out cold, we'll have the rest of the quarters and then we'll have a whole game," Adams said.
Norman finished with seven points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks, who only got points from four players (Nikea Whitmore scored four points).
"They definitely outplayed us in the second half," Kelly said. "They did a great job penetrating against us in the second half. And I think Shayne missed [just] one shot against us tonight."
Clifton thinks this could be the start of good things for the Hawks.
"It's huge," Clifton said. "I think it's the start of us winning games. If we keep our confidence, I think we can keep it going."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>