March basketball carries the most pressure of the season with the “win or go home” nature of tournament games. Despite the high stakes, for the second straight year, the Skyline girls’ basketball team saved one of the season’s most compete efforts for the tense action of District play.
After receiving an opening-round bye, the Eagles battled South Lyon East in a start to finish tight game, played at the site of eventual District champion Brighton.
Head coach Johnnie Horne’s Eagles avoided a slow start with an inspired opening quarter of two-way play. Junior Janee Faulkner, Skyline’s top scorer again this season, set an early tone with five of the Eagles 13 first quarter points. She would finish with a team-leading 14 points. Field goals off the bench from speedy Blessing Batalanga and always hard working sophomore Clare Salata, allowed the Eagles to take a two-point lead after the first eight minutes.
Too often during the season the Eagles struggled to put together solid back to back offensive quarters. But that changed under the pressure of an elimination game. Cammi Tirico, the junior three year starting point guard, and her backcourt mate junior Arielle Melong, expertly orchestrated an offense that saw four different players score. Freshman reserve Maya Wooley’s hard work and defensive effort also played a key role as the Eagles trailed by only one point, 24-23 at the half.
The Cougars offense remained frustrated in the third quarter while being limited to just nine points. As she did throughout the season Junior Alaine Heetderks, despite being undersized, excelled in the middle of the Eagles 2-3 zone defense. In addition, to her steady defensive play, Heetderks had one of her best offensive games of the season with three field goals and eight points. Fellow junior Renee Faulkner had a pretty running basket which helped Skyline hold the lead for a good portion of the third quarter.
With the offense struggling in the fourth quarter, the junior Batalanga and freshman Chala House continued their season long role of instant offense off the bench. A three from Batalanga and House’s jumper shortly after entering, had the Eagles down 40-36 with only 4 minutes left in the game.
Despite their best efforts, Skyline could not overcome the free throw disparity in the game. South Lyon East attempted 17 more free throws in the contest, outscoring the Eagles by 13 points from the line. The 48-39 final score marked the largest lead for either team during the entire game. That final difference of nine also matches the number of made free throws for the Cougars in the fourth quarter, compared to zero (makes and attempts) for the Eagles.
Ava Victory, Kelsey Walworth and Elizabeth Smith, who led an improved JV team during the season, fortified the Eagles varsity squad for the district playoff run. In the game’s final minute, they joined freshman Martina Sanchez on the floor and closed the game with a hard-working, shutdown defensive possession, that provided perhaps a glimpse of what lies ahead for the program..
Following a second straight season with no seniors on the roster, the Eagles future looks very bright. The entire team will return for the 2019-20 season, including all five of this year’s starters who will be entering their senior seasons in blue and white.
Coach Horne’s team displayed great character and effort every time they took the floor. This attitude and togetherness leaves great hope for what could be a season to remember next winter.