Hylton's gradual transformation from Cardinal District also-ran to contender continued last night as the Bulldogs used a 19-7 third-quarter run to roll past visiting Osbourn Park, 54-35.

"We felt our players were sluggish in the first half, and we couldn't continue the way we were going," said first-year Hylton boys coach Dan Kearney, whose team led 27-25 at halftime. "I know 27 points in the first half really is not very good, but [I'm pleased] holding them to just 10 points in the second half."

In the first half, the Bulldogs (7-2) struggled to keep up with the Yellow Jackets' up-tempo offense. But Hylton came out in the second half intent on using the size advantage of its front line, which features 6-foot-3 Ahmad Brooks, 6-3 Kenny Irby and 6-2 Napoleon Wright. After Osbourn Park tied the score at 29 on a Billy Malcolm fast-break layup with 6 minutes 9 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Yellow Jackets did not score a field goal for nearly five minutes.

Meanwhile, Hylton's big three scored 13 of the Bulldogs' next 17 points, including five straight by Irby that opened a 43-32 lead with 40.4 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Irby finished the game with 17 points, Brooks added 11, and Wright had seven.

"If we get in the ball [inside], we're going to score most of the time," said Irby, who did not start the game after missing two days of practice with a sprained ankle.

Hylton, 3-9 in the district last year, began the season seeking cohesion. Six members of the basketball team played on the Virginia AAA state champion football team and did not begin practicing until just a few days before the first game. Coupled with learning a new system brought in by Kearney--previously a nine-year assistant at Potomac--it has taken the Bulldogs a little while to play as a unit.

"The players are starting to feel more comfortable," Kearney said. "The more confident these kids are with the system . . . the more confident they are going to be in finishing players and trusting it."

Second-year Osbourn Park Coach Eugene Baltimore hoped that, like with Hylton, last season was part of a growing process. The Yellow Jackets--3-19 last year--showed flashes of improvement last night, but they (5-4) also resembled last year's struggling team, particularly in the second half.

"We just played half a game of basketball," Baltimore said. "You've got to play a full game of basketball. If you don't, this is what happens to you."