Hylton 69, Osbourn 44

The Hylton boys' basketball team starts three football players, and at least one other guy -- sturdy 6-foot-5 junior Jermaine Hill -- who would cut a fine figure in a helmet and shoulder pads. So teams pretty much know that they are in for a physical night when they face the Bulldogs.

So far this season, no one has been quite up to the challenge. That growing list now includes Osbourn (7-5), which lost, 69-44, last night in a nondistrict game at Hylton.

"If you want to break it down to one word, it's weight room," said Osbourn Coach Mike Dufrene, whose team was outrebounded and victimized by 15 steals. "They had the strength, and we didn't. They had the toughness, and we didn't. You can't rely on quickness and athletic ability when a team is flat out that much stronger."

Hylton (6-0) did not play its first game until Dec. 20, five days after the Bulldogs beat Oakton for the Virginia AAA Division 6 state football championship. For weeks, Hylton had to practice without its starting back court of juniors Deon Butler and Endor Cooper and senior Jerome Quinata -- football players who combined for 31 points last night. Hill and junior forward Dana Smith, with the basketball team for the duration, also teamed for 31.

"I think tonight was the first night we really had a good mixture of our inside play balanced with our outside play," Hylton Coach Kevin Brown said. "I think our defensive effort has been good throughout the year, it's just taken a little while to jell offensively."

There was a palpable lack of firepower in practice until sneakers replaced cleats in the duffel bags of so many Bulldogs. In a similar situation last season with football players trickling in late, Hylton lost its first three games but regrouped to reach the Northwestern Region tournament for the first time since 1993-94.

"A lot of us played AAU basketball together, so we pretty much know each other's rhythms and moves and even the kids who didn't play AAU with us, we go back to the same middle school," Butler said. "So it's a lot of team unity even when we're not together. We play smart and read off each other."

"We knew that we had some people coming off the football team who already played with us last year, so we weren't really worried about it at all," said Hill, who notched his sixth double-double in as many games, with 16 points and 18 rebounds. "We were just ready to go out there and play."