Young Hawks finding their way on the basketball court early this season

Jayden Norwood Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline High School’s boys basketball team is sure to hit some speed bumps during the 2017-18 season.

Such is to be expected after coming off a one-win season last winter, having a young 11-man roster that features three freshmen and only two seniors, and losing the team’s top two scorers from a year ago before this season began when Colin Smith transferred to Handley and Ryan Scott chose not to play basketball his senior year.

And yet the Hawks appear to be finding their way early this season. They stayed competitive with Millbrook last Friday, trailing the Pioneers by 10 points with four minutes remaining before eventually falling in blowout fashion, 77-47. On Monday night, Skyline got back on track with a 69-56 non-district win at home over Clarke County, evening the Hawks’ record at 2-2 and already doubling the team’s win total from a year ago.

“The biggest thing is building on what we’ve got,” Hawks head coach Jeff Monroe said following Monday’s win over the Eagles. “We’re young. We lost some key players, some expected and some unexpected, but the guys are gelling together, playing together. I feel good with this group, I really do.”

Not only did the Hawks get a win on Monday night to snap a two-game slide that included a pair of 30-point losses, but they looked good doing it.

Dylan Allison Rich Cooley/Daily

Skyline got production from up and down its lineup while posting a season-high in points scored, held Clarke County (1-5) to 36.2 percent from the floor while forcing 17 turnovers and largely controlled the game on the interior while dominating the glass with a 44-32 rebounding advantage.

The Hawks never trailed in the win and led by no fewer than 5 points for the final 23 minutes of game clock.

“I thought we did pretty decent defensive-wise. I though on offense we looked really good. We moved the ball around, I thought the guys shared the ball and they found open guys and stuff like that,” Monroe said. “That’s gonna be the key for us. We’re gonna have to grind out a lot of games and I feel like if we can continue to do that, I mean we’re gonna win some games.”

Monday’s winning formula included a commanding presence in the paint and a bench that continued to produce as it had in the first three games of Skyline’s season.

Bench players combined to score 33 of Skyline’s 69 points on Monday night. Clarke County, by comparison, had just 9 bench points in the game.

“When you come off the bench you just gotta have a lot of energy,” said Hawks sophomore forward Jayden Norwood, who starred off the bench with 9 first-half points and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds in the win. “In my mind all the time it’s just play your heart out, never give up on a play and go in and try to do the best you can for the team.”

Norwood was one of 10 Skyline players to score against Clarke County and one of five Hawks to score at least 8 points. Junior guard Dylan Allison led Skyline with 13 points, senior Ryan Caperton – another bench player – had 10, and freshman guard Mason Schmitz and junior forward Marcel Roy (four rebounds) each had 8 points.

Starting point guard Ty Clingerman, a junior, had 5 points, six rebounds and six assists, and freshman Darion Santucci added 7 points and five rebounds off the bench.

“That’s been the case so far this year. We’ve got some guys coming off the bench and giving us some points off the bench,” Monroe said. “That’s something we haven’t had the last couple years. And that really helps, when you can bring somebody in who is gonna help you get some production, not just defensive-wise but offensive-wise.”

Offensively, the Hawks connected on four 3-pointers – three of them in the second period as they turned a 2-point lead into a 13-point cushion and took a 38-29 lead into halftime – while consistently working their offense through the lane. Skyline finished with 38 points in the paint (Clarke County had 16, though the Eagles did block eight shots) and scored 28 second-chance points, including 17 in the second half.

“We normally just try to find the open man,” Allison said. “Tonight it was down low, so we worked it as much as we could.”

Monroe added that the Hawks – who do feature capable perimeter shooters in Allison, Caperton and Clingerman —  try to work the ball inside offensively “as much as possible.” All three connected from deep on Monday night.

“Our undersized guys do a great job of getting the ball up on the rim and giving us a chance,” said Monroe, whose team hosts James Wood on Wednesday night. “I’m proud of how they played. We’re not very tall but we’ve got to take advantage when we do get it down there. If they can get us some points inside that’s only gonna make us better.”