Hawks rebound against Eagles

BERRYVILLE – Skyline boys basketball coach Jacob Bates was eager to see how his team responded from a loss to Handley on Tuesday that snapped the Hawks’ four-game winning streak. It wasn’t a flawless performance, but Bates got the answer he was looking for on Thursday night at Clarke County.

Skyline rebounded from a sloppy first half against the Eagles and created enough distance late to pick up a 63-56 non-district victory.

“I was real anxious to see how we were going to react after the way we were rolling there for a while and Handley put us in our place a little bit, see if we were prepared to play some basketball,” said Bates, whose team improved to 9-7 with the win. “I still feel we’re in a lull a little bit but we were able to do enough tonight, and when you’re experienced enough sometimes that’s enough.”

And it helped that Skyline got plenty of help from center Brandon Walters. The 6-foot-5 senior led all players with 26 points and 16 rebounds, both career highs.

Walters’ presence in the paint gave Clarke County (6-10) problems for most of the night, but the senior deflected all of the credit to his teammates after the game.

“Our guards actually did a really good job. I thought they did phenomenal,” Walters said. “They took the ball and did everything they could with it. Jamal [Parker] had multiple assists to me. They just did a good job controlling the ball and passing to get really good shot looks. And then Colin [Smith] hit some 3s. It was just really good awareness.”

Walters’ big night led a Hawks offense that shot 53.8 percent (28 for 52) from the field and helped Skyline to a 37-20 rebounding advantage, both of which helped counteract 22 turnovers.

“I think that’s a result of a lot of shots in the paint, lots of post shots, lots of drive layups, lots of getting fouled and going to the line,” Parker, who finished with 17 points, said of Skyline’s solid shooting percentage.

“I noticed a lot of our players would catch the ball at the 3-point line and be wide open and dish it off for a better shot. It was good shot selection.”

That efficiency on offense helped Skyline turn a four-point lead into a 10-point advantage early in the fourth period, as the Hawks scored on five of six possessions to open the frame to build a 54-44 lead with 5:12 to play. Walters started the 10-4 run with back-to-back buckets before Parker topped it off with six straight points.

Clarke County stormed back quickly with a 10-2 run – powered by five points from Hunter Rogers – over the next 2½ minutes, and Sean McDonald’s conventional 3-point play pulled the Eagles with 56-54 with 2:37 left.

Skyline answered on its next possession when Smith, a freshman, knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner on a set play off an inbounds pass.

A baseline jumper by Eagles senior Carson Perkins cut Skyline’s lead back to three points with just over one minute to play, but the Hawks again answered when Antwan Swain found Walters wide open for a bucket in the paint off a press break on the following possession.

Two successful free throws by Evan Lester put the Hawks up 63-56 with nine seconds remaining.

“When we took what the defense gave us, we shot the ball extremely well. When we just did what we wanted to do it was not very good basketball,” Bates said. “But we made some free throws there at the end, executed on an inbounds play to knock down a 3. I think the big thing for us tonight was not quite hitting the brakes so hard. We got the 10-point lead and they make a run right back. Some games we’ve almost mentally stalled too much. You’ve got to make sure you’re a little leery. Tonight I think we still took what they were giving us enough to come out victorious.”

Skyline opened Thursday’s game by scoring nine unanswered points on four straight possessions, only to see Clarke County respond with a 13-2 run behind an aggressive full-court pressure defense that forced the Hawks into 10 turnovers in the first quarter.

“In the first half we were rushing too much. We were trying to beat the press and we just weren’t doing it well,” Parker said. “We were trying to force the ball up court. We were trying to force passes that weren’t there and it resulted in a lot of deflections and interceptions.”

Skyline led 18-17 at the end of the first period, but found itself trailing 30-28 at halftime. The Hawks quickly regained the lead with back-to-back buckets by Smith (12 points) and Parker to open the third quarter and held a 44-40 lead heading into the final period.

“We thought we had something to prove,” Walters said. “We got whipped against Handley and everybody was saying, ‘How are you going to respond?’ We wanted to respond aggressively. We knew we were facing a challenge and we came out at halftime down. We knew we had to either get big or go home.”

Brett McDonald led Clarke County with 16 points and five rebounds, while Sean McDonald had 12 points for the Eagles.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com