STRASBURG — Skyline’s boys basketball team built a big lead against Page County on the first day of the Ram Hardwood Classic at Strasburg High School on Thursday and let the Panthers back in it. Strasburg built a similar advantage over Luray and left the drama out of it. Both teams will meet in the championship game this weekend.
Skyline survived a late surge from Page County to hold on for a 64-57 win, picking up their fifth straight victory in the process and setting up a date in tonight’s championship game against Strasburg, which rolled the Bulldogs, 51-32, in its first game of the four-team tournament.
The Hawks (6-2), who have already matched their win total from the past two seasons, led Page County by 23 points with four minutes to play but needed to hit four free throws in the final 41 seconds to ward off the Panthers.
“We got a little comfortable,” Hawks head coach Jeff Monroe said after the game. “I mean they hit some big shots down the stretch to make it close. We’re still learning how to win. That’s the biggest thing. This group of seniors, I mean (they had) one win their sophomore year and then five wins last year. It’s still a learning process. We don’t understand the full (concept of) how to finish games yet. That’s been big for us. But hey, a win’s a win.”
The Panthers (5-6) had made only four of 19 3-point attempts in the first three periods but caught fire after finding themselves trailing 57-34 with four minutes left. Five different Panthers combined to hit five straight 3-point attempts from that point, and Chase Combs’ trey from the top of the arc capped a 23-3 run that cut Skyline’s lead to 60-57 with 49 seconds left.
Skyline, which had missed 3 of 4 free throws during Page’s run, recovered as Dylan Allison and Mason Schmitz combined to hit the team’s next four freebies to put the game away.
Up to that point midway through the fourth period, Monroe said he felt the Hawks had played well defensively and contested Page County’s shots while making some big ones of their own.
Skyline took momentum into halftime by closing the second period with an 11-4 run, the capper coming on Schmitz’s layup off his steal in the backcourt with five seconds left in the frame that sent the Hawks into the break with a 34-26 lead.
Hawks point guard Ty Clingerman took over the game in the third period, scoring 10 points in the frame as Skyline built an 18-point lead. Clingerman finished with 25 points to lead a trio of double-figure scorers for the Hawks that included forward Jayden Norwood (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Allison (10 points).
“He was big tonight,” Monroe said of Clingerman. “He hit some big shots. But our guys did a good job of finding him. Our guys did a great job of finding him and that’s been the key. We’ve been finding open guys, and luckily we’ve been finding the hot guy.”
Like Skyline, Strasburg (5-3) opened up a 20-point lead against winless Luray (0-10) in the final game of the night but never was in danger of losing that advantage.
The Rams led from start to finish and opened the game with a 12-2 run, forcing eight turnovers in the opening frame. Though Strasburg saw its lead dwindle to 3 points early in the second period, the Rams closed the first half on a 10-2 run and had doubled up the Bulldogs by the 1:30 mark of the third quarter.
Strasburg won the turnover battle, 17-6, in the win and forced nine steals (junior forward Da’Neil Holliday had five of those).
“We took care of the ball better than we have previously,” Rams head coach Larry Fox said. “We didn’t turn it over as much as we have, which has allowed us to play half-court defense and get back instead of giving up transition baskets. That’s something we really stressed, and I thought us taking care of the ball was a big difference for us.”
The return of junior point guard Dylan Hamrick, who missed the Rams’ first seven games with a broken collarbone he suffered during football season, also gave Strasburg a boost. He got up to speed quickly, rattling in a pair of 3-pointers in the first period on his way to finishing with a team-high 15 points and five rebounds.
“He’s gonna be our leader,” Fox said of Hamrick, who played nearly the entire game Thursday night. “He’s gonna be the kid that gets us in the right spot. He’s gonna be another scoring threat for us, which is gonna help us a lot.”
Kamryn Pangle had 13 points and five rebounds in the win, and Craig Pangle added 10 points, all in the first half, for the Rams.
Strasburg, a team that has battled inconsistency this season, now must take on a Skyline squad that hasn’t lost a game since Dec. 7.
“Skyline’s gonna be a good test for us, which is gonna help us for district play,” Fox said. “They’ve got some size inside, and they’ve got some good guards. It’s gonna be a good matchup for us, it really is. It’s gonna be a good solid, even matchup, and probably both teams are looking forward to (it) because it’s gonna help both teams.”