STRASBURG — A basketball team that’s learning how to win and close out games is bound to experience some nail-biting moments. Skyline’s boys got their fill of drama on their way to winning the Ram Hardwood Classic this past weekend.
Two days after nearly blowing a 23-point lead in the fourth period against Page County on Day 1 of the four-team tournament, the Hawks lost an 8-point lead in the final two minutes of Saturday’s championship game against Strasburg. But like Thursday’s win, Skyline found a way to hold on, and Mason Schmitz’s contested jumper in the lane with 17 seconds to play sent the Hawks to a 46-43 win.
“It’s part of the process,” said Hawks head coach Jeff Monroe, whose team has won six straight and improved to 7-2. “Our guys make it interesting, but we made plays when we had to and that’s the good thing about it.”
With Skyline holding a 43-35 lead after Dylan Allison’s driving layup with 2:10 left, the tension began when Schmitz missed a breakaway dunk that could’ve been the proverbial dagger. Strasburg junior Dylan Hamrick immediately answered with a 3-pointer, a shot that began an 8-0 Ram run that ended when Derek Fox found nothing but net on his own trey to tie the game at 43 with 35 seconds to play.
The Hawks answered right back, however, when Schmitz attacked the lane and pulled up, hitting a jumper with a hand in his face to give Skyline a 2-point lead with 17.3 seconds showing on the clock. It would turn out to be the game-winner, with Ty Clingerman adding a free throw for good measure after Hamrick’s off-balance 3-pointer missed the mark with 1.3 seconds left.
“We were looking for an (isolation), so I was up top and the kid overplayed and that’s when I drove in,” Schmitz said of his only bucket of the fourth period. “Honestly, I thought it was really contested, so I was scared, but I was so happy when it went in. It was crazy.”
The circumstances of Schmitz’s game-winner only made it sweeter for the sophomore guard. In addition to his missed dunk, Schmitz also fired what he called a “dumb” 3-point attempt midway through the fourth quarter. Matthew Tederick’s offensive rebound on the miss bailed out Schmitz and set up Ty Clingerman’s 3-pointer out of a timeout that stretched the Hawks’ lead to six.
“That shot just redeemed all of it to me,” Schmitz, who finished with 11 points, said of his winning shot.
Skyline spent most of the game playing catchup to the Rams (5-4) and took its first lead since the six-minute mark of the first period early in the final frame. A 16-point third quarter had given Strasburg a 5-point lead going into the fourth, but the Hawks began the last period with a 15-2 run.
Allison, who led Skyline with 15 points, scored seven of those during the run, which included consecutive 3-pointers from Tederick, Allison and Clingerman.
“You gotta get back on top and you’ve gotta take your team with you to do it,” Allison said of the Hawks’ mindset in the fourth quarter. “That’s all you gotta think about, is getting back on top and making sure your team’s right there with you.”
Strasburg head coach Larry Fox said the decisive fourth period showed the disparity between the teams’ level of varsity experience.
“I hate to keep beating a dead horse but just our experience and understanding how to play with a lead,” Fox said of the game’s deciding factor. “It’s getting back to the experience. We don’t have very many kids with a ton of varsity experience, and you look at Skyline and they had multiple seniors on the floor that have been through the battles. I think that helped them.”
Fox also said Skyline had scouted the Rams well, an area Monroe also made note of. The Hawks held Strasburg to a 32-percent mark from the floor and outrebounded the Rams 38-28.
Strasburg’s 43 points were also its lowest of the season, and Hamrick (15 points, 11 rebounds) was the only Ram in double-figures.
“(Skyline assistant coach Steve) Haines does a great job scouting for us and our guys were prepared for what they were running,” Monroe said. “It makes it easy for our guys on defense. We’re not the most athletic group in the world but when you’ve got somebody who’s scouted them as well as he has, it helps us out a whole lot.”
Neither team was sharp on offense early, as Strasburg led only 17-16 at halftime while both teams combined to make only 13 of 49 shots. The game was tied 7-7 at the end of the first period.
“I think we both were feeling each other out,” Monroe said with a laugh. “It was tough. We missed some easy shots there and they missed a couple too. But it was just one of those things, like a good old boxing match, everybody just taking punches and stuff. I told the guys, I said we’re gonna find out who’s gonna last at the end, and that’s what it was. We just made the plays at the end to win it.”
Allison, Clingerman, Hamrick, Strasburg’s Craig Pangle and Page County’s Chase Combs were named to the Ram Hardwood Classic all-tournament team.