By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, Jan. 6 — It wasn’t hard to hear the coach’s instructions, and the referee’s shrill whistle echoed off the walls. The quiet that surrounded the Page County Panthers’ season and home opener against Stonewall Jackson on Wednesday night was a bit odd due to COVID-19 restrictions, but many were glad just to be on the court.
“I posted on Facebook today — ‘#thankful to play’,” PCHS head coach Russ Rodriguez said after the game. “We are just thankful to be playing, and it’s a blessing that we can.”
Coach Rodriguez had to be even more pleased with a 71-42 win to open the 2021 season with a team that had only four returning players from last year’s squad that graduated seven seniors.
The Panthers honored their two seniors on the 2021 squad on Wednesday, as both local high schools in the county will open the season with Senior Night. Logan Cubbage and Canaan Pierce were recognized, along with their parents, prior to the start of the game.
Despite the spotlight on seniors, it was a junior that stole the show as Ricky Campbell scored 21 of his game- and team-high 27 points in the first half of Wednesday night’s win.
“I’ve had him since he was a freshman, and this summer there was something in his eyes,” Coach Rodriguez said. “He’s matured, and he’s excited.”
Pierce followed Campbell with 20 points on the night. The two co-captains combined for eight three-pointers, with Campbell hitting four from beyond the arc in the first half and Pierce hitting three in the fourth quarter.
Page County jumped out to a 21-5 lead after the first quarter, and then increased that lead to 39-15 at the half. Stonewall started moving the ball around better in the second half and played even with Page in the third quarter at 14 points apiece. The Panthers closed out the game on an 18-13 run and showed that despite only having four returning players from a senior-laden team a year ago, they are more than ready to compete for another ticket to the post-season.
“We’ve grown our coaching staff, and we’re growing a championship culture,” Coach Rodriguez said Wednesday night. “This is the best culture I’ve ever had on a team, and one of the hardest working teams I’ve ever coached.”
“We’re going to put on a show for people.”
To check out the schedules for all winter sports at both local high schools, visit the Bull Run District website.