Pressure works well for Skyline

Skyline's Jamal Parker, right, goes up to block a shot by Warren County's Robert Rutherford during first half boys basketball action Thursday night at Skyline High School. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline boys basketball coach Jacob Bates resisted his players’ insistence that the Hawks use a full-court press early against cross-town rival Warren County on Thursday night. Bates finally obliged early in the second period, and the defensive switch proved to be just what the struggling Hawks needed.

Skyline limited the Wildcats to one field goal over the final 22 minutes of the game and cruised to a 47-24 home win in the regular-season finale for both schools, snapping its five-game losing streak.

“It was actually their idea earlier than that. I was battling with them and they wanted to jump into it a few possessions before that. I wanted to stay a little bit more patient,” Bates said of the Hawks’ press. “It was the right call on their part. We had prepared it and they did a phenomenal job just moving their feet tonight.”

Warren County (6-16) led 10-5 at the end of the first period and extended that lead to 14-7 following a mid-range jumper by D’andre Lawrence with 5:52 left in the first half. Skyline (10-12) unveiled its full-court press shortly after that, and the Wildcats went cold.

The Hawks closed the half on an 11-2 run and took an 18-16 lead — its first of the game — into halftime after Colin Smith’s second 3-pointer of the period with 10 seconds left in the second quarter.

Warren County's D'andre Lawrence, right, shoots over Skyline's Evan Lester (15) during first half boys basketball action at Skyline High School. Rich Cooley/Daily

“When they say defense wins games, they ain’t lying,” Hawks senior forward Brandon Walters said. “We turned it on and I think our defense was pretty good. Coach really wants us to make things havoc whenever we play defense and I think it really showed tonight.”

Skyline seized control of the game quickly in the second half, as the Hawks opened the third period with an 8-0 run to take a 26-16 lead less than two minutes into the quarter.

Walters, who was limited to five points in the first half against Warren County’s 2-3 zone, scored six points – all in the paint – during spurt. He finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

“Once we started actually executing some offensive stuff that opened up those gaps,” Bates said. “We were able to get inside-out and we made a couple shots. Now that changes the way they have to play that zone. They had it packed in so tight.”

Skyline outscored the Wildcats 17-5 in the third period to open up a 35-21 lead. Warren County’s lone field goal of the second half came with 5:30 left in the third period, when junior forward Robert Rutherford banked in a shot from the low-block.

Warren County shot 18.4 percent (7 for 38) in the loss, including a 1-for-14 mark from 3-point range. The Wildcats’ shooting woes also spilled over to the free-throw line, where they were 9 for 20.

“The type of game we were going to win is how we played in the first half,” Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said. “I told the kids at the half, we played the kind of game we had to play in the first half to have a chance to win. The second half, we just couldn’t buy a shot. It was just ugly.”

Skyline, which extended its lead to as much as 24 points in the fourth period, shot 42.5 percent (17 for 40) from the floor.

“Once we fell behind, we’re nowhere near as athletic as they are,” Mathews said. “We tried to half-court trap. Once that didn’t work we tried man but they’re just too athletic to try to guard them man.”

Smith finished with nine points on three 3-pointers for the Hawks, while Antwan Swain added seven points for Skyline.

Hawks junior Brandon Wells drew praise from Bates after the game for his defense against Wildcats leading scorer Cameron Ford. Wells blanketed Ford for most of the night and limited the sophomore to six points.

Lawrence led Warren County with nine points, all of which came in the first half.

Skyline earned the fifth seed in the Conference 28 tournament with Thursday’s win and will travel to Rock Ridge on Monday for the quarterfinal round. Warren County will be the sixth seed and will travel to Loudoun Valley on Monday.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or