By Randy Arrington
ELKTON, Feb. 28 — It was a tough ending to a great season, and for seven seniors it was their last time on the court in Carolina blue.
Page County trailed East Rockingham from tipoff to the final buzzer and fell, 79-59, to the Eagles on the road in the Region 2B semifinal.
“We knew it was going to be tough to beat them,” PCHS head coach Russ Rodriguez said after the game. “On offense we had to try to keep up, and on defense we had to get creative.”
East Rock’s standout sophomore Tyler Nickel posted a game-high 32 points, including five three-pointers and going 3-for-6 at the line. The Bull Run District Player of the Year put up 34 points against Clarke in the quarterfinal round.
ERHS senior Tyce McNair added 22 points on Friday night.
Page played hard early and stayed within four points after the first eight minutes. They trailed by 11 at the half, and ended up losing by 20. East Rock’s height advantage underneath — touting a roster with listings of 6’7”, 6’6” and 6’4” — was too much to overcome.
“Tip our cap to them… they are tall, and they rebound,” Rodriguez said. “They probably had 30 points or more off second chances.”
PCHS senior Freddy Stidham never gave up and scored eight of his team-high 13 points in the fourth quarter. Junior Canaan Pierce had 10 points in the semifinal, including back-to-back three-pointers at the end of the second quarter. Point guard Trevor Williams closed out a solid senior season with nine points.
Senior Chase Combs had 11 points on the night, including a pair of shots from beyond the arc. Three days earlier, he posted a season-high 39 points against Staunton in the quarterfinal. The standout senior picked up his fourth foul Friday night just before the end of the third quarter and later fouled out with 4:54 remaining in the game.
One highlight of the night for the Panthers was honoring Combs at the 6:28 mark in the second quarter, when he surpassed the 1,000-point milestone for his high school career. The game stopped and the entire gymnasium — red and blue — recognized the achievement.
Combs may have an opportunity to extend his career as a student-athlete at the next level, as ODAC-members Eastern Mennonite University and Bridgewater College have approached him about the potential to play basketball and baseball, respectively.
Many of the seven seniors that walked off the court Friday night have been playing together since eighth grade. Coach Rodriguez said that makes closing out the Panthers’ (17-11) season even tougher.
“I tried not to get emotional in [the locker room]… they are a part of our life… they are a part of our family” Rodriguez said. “I tried to tell them… don’t stop… don’t let high school basketball be the highlight of your life.
“They will be able to look back and see what they have accomplished. They need to see how hard they actually worked,” Rodriguez continued. “This didn’t just happen over one season… this happened over three seasons.
“We were one game away from a state tournament berth.”
With the win, East Rock now advances to the regional championship on Saturday at Spotswood. The Eagles (25-2) will face either No. 2 seed Buckingham or the No. 3 seed Stuarts Draft at 7:30 p.m.