STEPHENS CITY – Less than a week after holding off two comeback bids en route to winning the Ram Hardwood Classic, Skyline’s boys basketball team nearly pulled off a miraculous one of its own in its first contest of the new year.
The Hawks, winners of six straight heading into Wednesday’s game at Sherando, trailed the Warriors by 21 points in the third period and rumbled all the way back to take a late lead. The advantage was shortlived, however, and after spending all of its energy erasing the deficit, Skyline didn’t have enough to finish off the Warriors, who held on for a 66-61 win.
“I was pleased with that,” Hawks head coach Jeff Monroe said of the fight his team showed. “I just told our guys in there, we just didn’t come out focused. I don’t know if we just thought we’d roll up here and … we’re 7-2, and Sherando’s gonna say ‘oh God, Skyline’s (7-2).’ And that’s not the case. We’ve gotta realize that every game’s gonna be a grind for us and every game we’ve gotta be mature, focused when we come on the court. We weren’t, and that was my fault. I should’ve done something different; I don’t know. We just weren’t focused, and as a coach that’s your fault.”
Sherando (6-5) was on the verge of a blowout win after a 9-2 run to open the second half gave the Warriors a 42-21 lead with 5:40 left in the third period. But a Skyline (7-3) squad that had hit only six of 25 shot attempts in the first half suddenly got hot from the perimeter.
Hawks sophomore Mason Schmitz got things rolling with his runner in the lane with 5:05 left in the quarter, triggering a 14-2 run over the next 2:37 that included two 3-pointers each from Schmitz and senior point guard Ty Clingerman. Schmitz’s back-to-back treys cut Sherando’s lead to 44-35 with 2:28 left in the third.
Sherando took a 13-point lead into the fourth period, but Skyline wasn’t done. Trailing by 11 after Sherando sophomore Keli Lawson made a bucket through contact with 3:53 left, the Hawks went on a 13-1 run over the next 2:10 to take their first and only lead of the night.
Schmitz, who scored 19 points before fouling out with 42 seconds left, again got the run started with a driving layup, and Clingerman (18 points) knotted the score at 59-all when he nailed a 3-pointer from the wing out of a timeout with 2:25 to play, a bucket set up by his hustle rebound off his own miss moments before.
Two Jayden Norwood (11 points, 11 rebounds) free throws gave Skyline a 61-60 lead with 1:31 left.
“We knew they were a real good shooting team,” Warriors coach Garland Williams said. “We tried to protect the perimeter a little bit, and that helped a good bit through three quarters, and they made adjustments. They made adjustments, we tried to make adjustments, but then they got into a rhythm. It was one of those things; we were hoping to just weather it and they slow it up a little bit. They did a real good job as far as shooting the ball, penetrating and kicking.”
Lawson’s free throws regained the lead for Sherando with less than a minute to go, and a Warriors team that missed eight of its first 14 free throws in the fourth period saw seniors T.J. Washington and George Gibson each hit a pair over the final 31 seconds to seal the win.
Skyline twice got good looks from the perimeter from Dylan Allison -- once down 62-61 and again down 3 points -- but the senior’s shot was off the mark both times.
“We had our best shooter take a wide-open shot, and I’ll take that any day,” Monroe said.
Wednesday’s game was one of adjustments for Skyline, which was dominated in the paint in the first two periods.
The Hawks first had to find an answer for the 6-foot-4 Lawson, who finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds and had a huge first half with 10 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. Lawson was far less dominant in the second half, and Monroe said Skyline did a better job of getting a body on the Sherando sophomore and contesting his shots inside, a change made more effective by what Williams said was the Warriors’ lapse into taking too many jumpers.
Skyline also unveiled full-court pressure for the first time this season and forced 19 turnovers, including six in the fourth period.
“We spend a lot of time on that,” Williams said of Sherando’s ball security, “and spend a lot of time with the kids as far as making good passes, especially when nobody’s in your face to force a bad pass. Just make a simple pass, and sometimes I think an ESPN highlight or something flashes in their mind and think they’re gonna be on ESPN. I don’t know. The good thing is we were able to keep our composure at the end, weather the storm and get the win.”
Michael Usa had 13 points and eight rebounds for Sherando and Jonathan Armel added 10 points and eight boards.
Skyline, which has already topped its win total from the previous two seasons combined, will find out how it responds after a loss for the first time since Dec. 7 when the Hawks travel to Central on Saturday.
“We’ve got a little adversity right now, and we’ll see if we come back and (are) ready to play,” Monroe said. “This is a tough part of our schedule right here. We’ve got Sherando and then we’ve got Central, who’s one of the top teams in (Class 2), and then we’ve got Handley, who’s one of the top teams in (Class 4). We’ve got three tough games, so we’ve gotta make sure we come out ready to play because if we don’t, we’re gonna lose three in a row real quick.”