By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, Jan. 8 — The Page County High School girls basketball team has already made a 180-degree turn only two games into the 2021 season.
“Tonight and Wednesday night, they were two different teams,” head coach E.J. Wyant said after Friday night’s 56-46 win in the Panthers’ home opener against Strasburg.
Two nights earlier, Page County fell in the 2021 opener on the road at Stonewall Jackson, 61-39.
“They had a few games under their belt… I think they were playing their third game, and it was our first one… [we] had a little ‘deer in headlights look’,” Coach Wyant said of the Stonewall game.
The opening minutes of Friday night’s game saw the Panthers start a little slow, as the Rams pulled out to a 12-8 lead. However, Page went on a 5-0 run to close out the first quarter and take a 13-12 lead.
Page County used momentum from the last three minutes of the first quarter to fuel a 17-9 run during the second period, as the Rams only hit three shots from the floor. The Panthers shot 48 percent from the floor during the first half, hitting six shots from beyond the arc. Page lead Strasburg, 30-21, at the half.
Both teams shot poorly in a low-scoring third quarter, but Page would ultimately defend its lead down the stretch at the foul line in the fourth.
The Rams made a run at Page in the last three minutes, hitting four three-pointers in less than two minutes to pull within six at 50-44 with 1:15 remaining. However, the Panthers went 12-of-18 at the charity stripe in the final 88 seconds to secure the home court win.
“I was so happy with how our girls responded tonight,” Coach Wyant said. “I saw them doing the things we need to do… [so when we started slow] I knew if they kept doing those things, we would be fine.”
Seniors Hannah Southers and Taylor Hankins both put up a team-high 16 points, but the Panthers spread the ball around as junior Caris Lucas scored 10 Friday night and junior Gracie Mason had eight.
The Panthers pulled out the win and evened the 2021 season at 1-1 after playing two games without junior Leah Hilliard. The standout from last season has been quarantined due to contact tracing for COVID-19.
“We didn’t know she wasn’t going to be able to play until we were getting on the bus [to go to Stonewall],” said Coach Wyant, noting it affected the team’s mindset heading into the season opener in Quicksburg.
On Friday night, the Rams (2-3) were lead by potentially one of the best freshmen in the district, Macy Smith, with 18 points. Senior Natalie Hott added 11 points, and junior Kenley Smith had nine.
Page County heads to Clarke County on Monday night for another Bull Run District matchup.
“I think we’re a pretty balanced team,” Coach Wyant said after Friday night’s win. “We just need to get some more touches.”
The Panthers clearly seem to have potential that they have not yet tapped into, which could make for some great matchups again this season with a key rival just up the road that’s hoping for a pretty good season as well.
For upcoming games, notices, rosters and full schedules for Page County High School winter sports, visit the Bull Run District website.