By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, Feb. 18 — The Page County Panthers propelled themselves into the Bull Run championship Tuesday night with a decisive, 84-47, victory over visiting Rappahannock.
Senior Chase Combs once again led the way with 17 points, while senior Freddy Stidham and sophomore Ricky Campbell each added 14.
“We probably had the best practice all year yesterday,” PCHS head coach Russ Rodriguez said after Tuesday night’s win. “We went over offense, and it paid off. I think this was one of our best games all season.”
The thing that Coach Rodriguez was “most proud of” on Tuesday night was the fact that all 11 Panthers scored in the 37-point victory.
“That’s the first time this season that we’ve done that,” he said.
While it was special for Rodriguez to get the dominating semifinal win on Tuesday night in front of his former cross country coach, Stan Price — Rodriguez won all-state honors in cross country in 1999 — the bus ride to East Rock on Friday night will be even more monumental to him.
Rodriguez went from kindergarten through his senior year at PCHS with his friend Adam Knighton, who coaches the JV team and assists with the varsity. The PCHS Class of 2000 graduates have coached together for several years, and now Friday night will be the last time they travel together as coaches.
Rodriguez says that he will be leaving the classroom and stop teaching at PCHS after this school year to pursue a doctoral degree, but he will continue to coach next season.
The Panthers’ JV squad will be playing Strasburg for the Bull Run title prior to the varsity championship game on Friday. Both boys’ games will be at East Rock, with the JV game at 6 p.m. and the varsity to follow about 7:30 p.m.
If the PCHS girls’ varsity team was able to get past Strasburg Tuesday night on the road, all four PCHS teams — boys and girls, JV and varsity — will play for district titles on Thursday (girls) and Friday (boys). The girls will play at Luray, as both girls’ teams for the Bulldogs are hosting the Bull Run title games on Thursday.
Coach Rodriguez realizes that East Rock (23-2) presents a formidable foe, but he also has faith in his Panthers (16-9) — and he hopes they have faith in themselves as well.
“They have the Player of the Year in Nichols… I have never beaten East Rock since I’ve been here… but you have to keep working and keep grinding… we have the ability, and I believe we can beat them,” Rodriguez said. “Top to bottom, I think we have a more complete team. You have to beat good teams to stay alive in the postseason, and East rock’s a good team.
“I keep telling my guys… you have to believe,” Coach Rodriguez continued. “We are peaking at the right time. We’re looking for a great game on Friday — but you have to believe you can win.”