FRONT ROYAL — It wasn’t the statement win that would’ve gone a long way toward building a sense of confidence within Skyline’s boys basketball program early in the season, but there was still some good to be gleaned from Monday's 73-66 loss at home to Central.
The Falcons, a VHSL Class 2 state semifinal team last season, pushed their lead to double figures multiple times throughout the contest but couldn’t entirely shake Skyline. Even down 11 points with four minutes to play, the resilient Hawks rallied to cut the deficit to three with 1:15 left, and only when senior Jared Patton hit four free throws over the final 30 seconds did Central finally put the game out of reach.
“They kept playing. I was pleased with that,” said Hawks head coach Jeff Monroe, whose program hasn’t had a winning season since 2013 and combined for just six wins over the previous two years. “I thought we made too many mistakes to play with a team like that. Central’s a very good team. They’ve been one of the top teams in our area for the past two or three years, but like I said, I thought our guys did a really good job of (they) kept fighting back. … It’s one of those things, we’re learning. A lot of our kids haven’t had success over the years so they’re still learning how to get over that hump. Hopefully these games like this are gonna help build what we need to get there.”
Skyline’s resolve was tested early against Central. Just 31 seconds into the action, Hawks 6-foot-4 freshman Marlon Jackson got his arm tangled up with a Central player while fighting for a rebound and suffered a dislocated elbow. Following a 10-minute stoppage while Jackson was helped onto a stretcher and taken to the hospital for X-rays, Skyline rapidly fell into a hole that hit bottom with a 27-12 deficit after Patton’s 3-pointer two minutes into the second period.
Hawks sophomore Mason Schmitz said after the game that Jackson’s injury had an emotional impact on Skyline’s squad.
“Yeah it did,” Schmitz said, “but at the end of the day we just wanted to put that game to him, like we wanted to put it in his honor because he (dislocated his elbow).
“I felt so bad,” he added. “It looked so bad.”
On the brink of getting knocked out of the contest early, Skyline suddenly found life midway through the second period, starting with Jayden Norwood’s stickback off a Schmitz miss with 5:45 left in the first half.
That bucket — the first of four in the frame for Norwood, who scored 9 of his 15 points in the second period — began a 14-2 Skyline run that pulled the Hawks within 3 points with two minutes left in the first half. The Hawks went into halftime trailing 35-30.
“I think a little bit of it is just our energy level was up a little more,” Monroe said. “I think our guys were down after Marlon got hurt but they came back out in the second quarter and we slowly got back in it. I kept telling them we’ve gotta take it a bucket at a time and to our guys’ credit, they kept fighting and scratching. We got all the way back into it.”
Powered by big offensive nights from junior Alex Neff and sophomore Dominic Strother, who scored 21 and 19 points, respectively, Central pushed its lead back to 15 points with 5:25 to play only to see Skyline rally again.
Down 67-57 with 2:24 left, Schmitz started a 7-0 Skyline run with his bucket in the paint. Hawks senior Dylan Allison cut Central’s lead to five when he darted into the lane for a basket after an L.T. Barber steal, and Norwood’s bucket inside off an inbound pass pulled Skyline within 67-64 with 1:15 to play.
“Definitely want to see us put it away but credit to them,” Falcons head coach Jeff Whittle said of the Hawks. “They got the ball and I thought they just never gave up.”
The Hawks’ full-court man-to-man pressure, which they turned to out of a timeout with 4:55 left in the fourth period, helped create five Central turnovers in the final frame — “Their press was destroying us there at the end,” Neff said — and Schmitz’s big second half went a long way toward keeping Skyline in the game.
Schmitz, frustrated by an erratic first half in which he fired up several out-of-control shots as he drove the lane, scored 16 of his team-high 20 points in the second half. He had 10 points in the fourth period and finished with eight rebounds.
Whittle said he was unhappy with Central’s poor defensive rotation in the paint, which led to 16 second-chance points for Skyline and allowed Schmitz to find success attacking the rim.
“(Schmitz) just kept driving on us and we couldn’t really stop him,” said Strother, the Falcons’ 6-foot-6 big man.