By Lisa Crider, MadRapp Recorder
(provided to Page Valley News by MaddRapp – published with permission)
RAPPAHANNOCK, Jan. 13 — It was a tale of two halves for the Rappahannock Panthers as they faced off with Page County at RCHS gym for the first time this season.
Rapp (3-3 Bull Run District) was coming off a road win against Strasburg Monday and looking for some payback against the Page County Panthers (4-0 district) who knocked them out of the Bull Run District tournament last year.
In the first period, Rapp struck first, but Page quickly answered back, building a 9-2 lead with three minutes left in the quarter. Baskets by Mason Ramey and Grant Lillard got the Panthers within three points.
Page took control of the ball and Ricky Campbell sunk a 3-pointer widening the lead to six. An answering three-point score from John Mullin narrowed the gap, but Campbell sank a two. The quarter ended 14-9.
The second quarter was all Page County as the Panthers scored at will from every part of the court, as well as drawing fouls and shooting 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. Page scored 26 points in the quarter, with 10 points from junior Canaan Pierce. Rapp went into the locker room down 14 with the score 40-26.
The second half saw a different Rapp team, as the [homecourt] Panthers slowly began to chip away at Page’s lead. Junior Matthew Pullen got the scoring started, followed by Ramey. Rappahannock had clearly cracked the Page defense, outscoring Page 21-17 in the third, bringing Rappahannock within 10 points.
In the final quarter, Rapp continued to press. Grant Lillard sunk two 3-pointers early and Pullen added seven points. With 4:50 to go, Rapp had pulled within five points. Page County wasn’t done though, adding 18 points in the quarter.
At 3:37 the score was 64-63, and Page County scored again. Rapp answered back, getting to within a point with 2:07 left in the game. Page went on a short scoring run, adding six.
Rappahannock fought on, sinking another three to get within three points with 21 seconds left. Regaining the ball, Rapp looked to shoot from the outside to tie the game, but Lillard’s shot from the right side missed. Luke Ellis scored two, but Page County took possession with 2.3 seconds to play, scoring two free throws to put the game away.
Page County head coach Russ Rodriguez was happy with his team’s play.
“I’m in my seventh year coaching here and this is the best culture we’ve ever had at Page,” Rodriguez said. “We lost seven seniors coming into this season, so it’s a young team, but these guys have responded so well in what we thought would be a rebuilding year. I’m trying to get these kids to respond as leaders, so our team saying is ‘rise.’
“You probably heard me yelling at the end of the game, ‘champions rise’.”
Rodriguez had praise for the Panthers as well. “Rappahannock is improving every single year. This team, they’re for real. They’re contenders.”
Rapp Coach Colton Ball was philosophical about the tough loss.
“We came in with a good game plan, but we fell into what they wanted to do that first half,” Ball said. “We came out in the second, made our adjustments and played the best half we’ve played all year. Now we just [need to] put two of those halves together. A lot of teams would have given up after being down 14 points at the half. But we hit some big shots and gave ourselves a chance to win at the end. That last 3-pointer just didn’t fall, and we fell short. But we’re building a program here, and these kids get better every single game. We’re looking for the long term.”
Top scorers for Page County were guard Canaan Pierce with 24 points and guard Ricky Campbell with 21 points.
Tops scorers for Rappahannock were Grant Lillard with 22 points and Mason Ramey and Matthew Pullen with 14 points each.