By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Something felt just a bit different for Skyline High School sophomore forward Antwan Swain as he warmed up with his teammates before Thursday night's home matchup against Brentsville.
Swain, still getting used to a starting role for the Hawks, started feeling better and better about his shot as he took his chances on the court.
If Swain was feeling good before the game, Skyline was feeling that much better afterward with a 42-37 boys basketball victory. Swain delivered his best game of the season, torching the Tigers for a game-high 17 points in the win.
"At the shoot-around before the game, I was actually kind of feeling it," Swain said. "So tonight was just the night for me."
A steady presence in the paint, Swain even showed off his long-range shooting touch with a 3-pointer in the second quarter. Mostly, though, Swain worked the inside for Skyline (2-8).
"That's his best game yet," Hawks coach Jacob Bates said. "All of our guys have been working hard. They haven't been able to necessarily show it on the court on game nights, and this was a night that Antwan was comfortable. He's working so hard in practice that he's starting to get a little bit more comfortable each game."
Brentsville (1-6) mustered only nine points in the first half. That allowed the Hawks to build a 21-9 lead after two quarters, as Swain and Jamal Parker combined for 17 first-half points. Skyline even snatched the last bit of momentum heading into the break when TrayQuan Diamond banked in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
The Tigers responded in the third quarter behind senior forward Tre Ford, who buried a pair of 3-pointers as part of his seven-point output to start the rally. A pair of made free throws by Christian Aldea pulled the Tigers back within three points at 25-22 with three minutes left in the third quarter, and the Hawks held only a four-point lead heading into the final eight minutes.
In the fourth quarter, Skyline pulled it back together down the stretch by effectively working the ball inside against the Tigers' determined 1-2-2 zone and by forcing turnovers up top. Aldea briefly got Brentsville to within a basket with a running jumper in the lane to open the quarter, and the Tigers were still within four with just more than five minutes to play.
The Hawks went to work inside, and Swain and Joshua Smeltzer (seven fourth-quarter points) notched back-to-back buckets in the paint to push the lead back out to eight.
Brentsville got it back down to four on Khalil McKenzie's made free throw with 1:04 to go, but Smeltzer answered right back by making two free throws on the other end. McKenzie shaved those two points off with a layup with 41 seconds to go, but the Tigers had run out of gas.
"Tremendous signs of growth for us tonight," Bates said. "We had several guys step up and make plays at the end.
"... It makes the win really feel creditable and just really good overall because of the decisions we made to get the win. It wasn't a win by default, it wasn't a we knocked down shots and they didn't. We fought and we clawed, and we were able to get a victory."
Tre Ford led Brentsville with 12 points.
Parker joined Swain in double digits with 12 points. Swain also had a team-high six rebounds.
"[Swain] did a lot of damage against us," Tigers coach Al Ford said. "If we could've found an answer for him, we probably would've had an opportunity to win the battle of the boards and take a victory home."
Bates credited his team with a hard-nosed attitude on both ends of the floor.
"The guys were aware of some of the mistakes they made, and I didn't have to get on them as much as they were getting on themselves," Bates said. "That's when you start to realize that they're starting to understand some things."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>