FRONT ROYAL – The Skyline’s girls basketball team got a late-season look at how it stacks up against what figures to be one of the best squads in the upcoming Region 3B tournament on Thursday night. The Hawks still have some work to do to challenge the likes of William Monroe.

Much as they did in their first meeting against Monroe, the Hawks held their own in the first half against a Green Dragons team that’s without injured star Samantha Brunelle. And much like that Jan. 15 matchup in Stanardsville, a one-sided third period thwarted Skyline’s upset bid.

Trailing 27-22 at halftime, the Dragons outscored Skyline 21-4 in the third period and ran away with a 55-37 victory in Class 3 Northwestern District action. Monroe’s second-half outburst left Hawks head coach Jim Kenney wondering what went wrong on the other end of the break.

“Honestly, I don’t know what happened,” he said. “It’s not like they changed anything or we changed anything. I just think, quite frankly, they wanted it more in the second half. They just wanted it more. They got every loose ball. They got every tip. They got every rebound, it seemed like. They wanted it more, and we did not match their intensity in the third quarter.”

Even without Brunelle, a Notre Dame signee who had surgery last month after fracturing her foot in a game on Dec. 28, William Monroe is a formidable opponent that ran its winning streak to 11 straight with Thursday’s victory. But Skyline has twice shown, at least for one half, that it can hang with the Dragons, the district’s lone unbeaten.

In their first meeting on Jan. 15, both teams were tied at 18-all heading into halftime before Monroe took a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Skyline was shorthanded in Thursday’s rematch and played without the services of sophomores Christa Grady and CiCi Difiglia, who each have been starters are various points this season. Kenney said after the Monroe loss that a couple Hawks were suspended for “violations” and their availability for the rest of the season is uncertain.

“I want another crack at William Monroe,” Kenney said, “because I’m convinced, and I need to do a better job of convincing these girls, but I’m convinced we can beat them. I know we can beat them.”

It wasn’t to be on Thursday, as a Dragons team that missed all eight of its 3-point attempts in the first half blew up behind Hailey Morris’ hot hand from deep in the third period. The Monroe sophomore was 4-for-4 from beyond the arc in the quarter, powering an offensive outburst that nearly matched the Dragons’ entire first-half output.

Morris scored 13 of her 17 points in the third period and was bested only by Martha Apple’s 20 points and nine rebounds in Monroe’s lineup.

In addition to the 3-point barrage, the Dragons nearly erased a 19-10 deficit on the boards by outrebounding Skyline 14-6 in the decisive period (both teams ended the night with 30 rebounds) and didn’t commit a turnover while forcing the Hawks into four.

“We told them at halftime there’s three things that’s happening right now,” Dragons head coach Jess Stafford said, “... you’re going the motions, your shot selection was poor, and then you’re giving up too many offensive rebounds. You adjust those three things, and it’s an easy fix. And I feel like they did that, and that allowed the shots to fall because you’re taking better shots.”

Skyline couldn’t keep pace with the suddenly efficient Dragons and mustered only three field goals in the second half. The Hawks at one point endured an 8 ½-minute stretch without a field goal.

Senior point guard Rachel Sirbaugh enjoyed a solid first half for Skyline and scored 13 points through the first two periods. She was locked down by what Stafford jokingly called Monroe’s defensive “secret weapon” – junior guard Kaitlyn Beale – in the second half and scored just 2 points after intermission.

Sirbaugh, who hit a trio of 3-pointers in the first half, was the lone Hawk in double-figures.

“We got stagnant,” said Kenney, whose team turned the ball over 23 times in the loss. “We went away from sort of what our strength is, which is running in transition. We just stopped doing it. And we just were not in attack mode. We did a lot of side-to-side dribbling, not really looking to attack off the dribble, which is sort of our strength.”

Thursday’s game was the first in a key stretch for Skyline that includes games against Culpeper County and Brentsville, the other two teams in the top four of the district race. Kenney said after the loss to Monroe that the Hawks could climb from the fourth seed to the third seed in the Region 3B tournament if they took care of business over their final three games.

“It didn’t have anything to do with effort because these girls always play hard,” Kenney said of Thursday’s loss. “They always give their heart and soul out there. … We just needed to bring it up another notch in that third quarter.”

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