Visiting Hawks slip by crosstown rival Wildcats

By Greg Brill – sports@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL — For many years, Damien Caison and Logan Hibbs were teammates of Eli McEathron.

The trio came up together through all levels of youth basketball, and the last season the group played as a unit came during the winter of 2007 as eighth-graders at Warren County Middle School.

When Skyline High School opened that fall, McEathron enrolled as a freshman. Hibbs and Caison, meanwhile, headed to Warren County.

On Tuesday night, Skyline’s four seniors, McEathron, Zack Dove, Zack Henry, and Cameron Taylor, played their final game against arch-rival Warren County. Caison and Hibbs were the only seniors playing for the Wildcats.

“We were teammates in parks and recreation all the way up through until the schools split, so there was a lot of emotion going into this game,” McEathron said. “This game is all about pride. In the grand scheme of things, this game’s not all that important. I mean, you want to have bragging rights.”

Skyline will hold those rights for another year, but it wasn’t easy. Up by 15 points after three periods, the Hawks had to hold off one last-ditch rally by the host Wildcats to win 53-48 before a near capacity crowd.

The shooting of McEathron went a long way to Skyline earning a season-sweep of Warren County. McEathron led the Hawks with 12 points — on 4-of-9 shooting from 3-point range.

“Eli had a huge night,” Skyline coach Sonny Dyke said. “[Assistant coach Steve] Haines, when they were going out for the jump-ball, he said he had watched Eli warm up, and he couldn’t miss. When he missed the first two [3-point attempts], Steve told him to keep shooting.

“He felt it, and hit a few [Monday] night, too. That was huge, no doubt.”

The Wildcats had hoped to accomplish just what Skyline did in the first meeting on Jan. 7, when the Hawks, down 17 points in the second period, rallied all the way back to take the lead in the final seconds and win 62-58.

In the second meeting, Hibbs (13 points) hit a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left to leave Warren County down 49-48. But the Wildcats did not score again.

Though they hit big 3-pointers throughout Tuesday’s game, the Hawks sometimes settled for the long shot. Half of the shots Skyline took (25 of 50) came from behind the arc.

Early on, Skyline missed few shots from 3-point range. Coming off a huge 18-point win on Monday at James Wood, Skyline (13-4) shot the ball extremely well from outside in the middle periods to move out to a 45-30 lead.

There were plenty of scoring options for the Hawks. Trailing 12-10 after the first period, Skyline got instant offense from Dove’s six points off the bench in the early minutes of the second period. And with season-leader Ryan Dyke — coming off a school-record 32-point performance in the win over James Wood — off to a slow start (no field goals, two first-half points), others filled the void.

That included McEathron, who has rediscovered his shot from long range. Really long range.

“My role on the team is more of a distributor,” McEathron said. “I missed my first two [shots], but in pre-game I was hitting everything. I figured I’d keep shooting, and I was able to hit my next three.”

From at least 25 feet away, McEathron squared his feet and buried a 3-pointer for his first points with 34 seconds left in the first period to tie the game at 10.

McEathron knocked down another long ball from the key in the Hawks’ 9-3 run to begin the second period.

In the third period, McEathron hit two more 3-pointers. He scored off Taylor’s pass to open the second-half and his final bomb was launched off the left wing for a 38-28 lead with 3:03 left.

And this, after Caison (game-high 14 points) launched back-to-back made baskets from behind the arc to keep the Wildcats (6-8) close.

The Hawks scored the third’s final seven points, as Dyke (nine points) got his only made basket (a 3-pointer) and hit two free throws for a 15-point lead.Once the fourth started, the Wildcats put themselves in position to win by forcing turnovers out of their half-court press and finally getting Hibbs involved.

In the fourth period, Skyline had six turnovers and made just two field goals.

“They helped us out by shooting some [missed] threes there,” Warren County coach Vernon Mathews said. “Don’t get me wrong, because they make a lot of 3’s. We hadn’t used that [half-court] trap much. We had to do something. The trap allows us to get back and not allow the long bomb.

“It was good. The kids fought hard to get back in it.”

Through three periods, Hibbs had made one basket and had eight points. Taylor and Dayvon Haight took turns shadowing Hibbs wherever he went.

The Hawks had a 13-point lead with 4:35 left after Taylor’s drive, but the Wildcats would not be denied. Gaining some space as he swung to the right wing, Hibbs drained his second 3-pointer of the game to trim Skyline’s lead to a point with under a minute left to send the Warren County side of the packed bleachers into bedlam.

The Wildcats even had a glimmer of hope, following a quick steal. But the Hawks, in turn, gained a steal moments later, and Taylor (nine points) hit two free throws with 37 seconds left to make it 51-48 Skyline.

With time ticking away, the Wildcats had trouble getting a good look at the basket, and as Caison tried to make something happen, he lost his dribble. McEathron recovered for the Hawks and was fouled by Caison, who left the game with his fifth foul.

McEathron missed the one-and-one, but Henry (10 points) stepped in off the weak side and gained the offensive rebound. Henry sealed the result, hitting both his free throws for a five-point lead with seven seconds left.