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Pioneers grab win at home

By Ben Brooks – sports@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER — With most of the boys basketball coaches in the Northwestern District believing that little separates the league’s five teams, even the slightest advantage on any given night can make all the difference.

On Friday, Millbrook High School’s full-court pressure defense created enough havoc to spark the Pioneers to a 62-49 home district victory over Skyline. Led by Donte Harris’ five steals, the Pioneers forced 22 turnovers and moved into a first-place tie with Sherando.

“We just knew we had to hustle and play hard,” said Harris, the 5-foot-11-inch junior guard.

“[Defense] defines him,” Mankins said of Harris. “That’s rare for a high school athlete. Sometimes he gets overshadowed out there, but defensively I trust him. He doesn’t remember the last play.”

Harris led three Millbrook double-figure scorers with a game-high 17 points. Devin Call added 16 before fouling out late in the game, and Rze Culbreath chipped in with 14.

The Pioneers (9-6 overall, 3-1 in the district) outscored Skyline 11-2 over the last 5:25 of the first quarter to take a 15-8 lead they never relinquished. After that, points came in spurts. One such spurt came early in the second quarter, when Harris and Culbreath converted back-to-back steals into layups to give Millbrook its first double-digit lead.

“They’ve always been a team that likes to trap and double-team and turn your mistakes into transition layups,” Skyline coach Sonny Dyke said of the Pioneers. “They’ve got terrific athletes and coach Mankins puts them where they need to be to make plays.”

Even with Millbrook’s opportunistic defense, Skyline hung around, thanks to its own hard work in a tough, physical game. Trailing by as many as 14 points late in the third quarter, the Hawks (11-3, 0-2) pulled within seven on Zack Dove’s 3-pointer midway through the fourth.

Millbrook, however, took advantage of Skyline’s gambling pressure the rest of the way. Two assists from senior guard Brady Baker sparked an 8-0 run that effectively put the game away.

Ryan Dyke paced the Hawks with 12 points. Joey Neidigh and Dove contributed eight apiece.

“I thought that both teams played a terrific defensive game,” Sonny Dyke said. “They both played hard. Most of our offensive woes came from their play, but I’m as happy as a losing coach can be. We’ve been in kind of a funk lately, where he had not played well defensively. I think we can take a lot from this game.”

What Mankins took from the game is continued healthy respect for all his district opponents.

“Everybody in this district could go 4-4 and split with each other,” he said. “There’s not going to be an easy district game.”