By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Jan. 28 — The Page County Panthers proved to be too much for the home-standing Bulldogs of Luray on Thursday night, as the visitors captured a 69-38 Bull Run District win in the first meeting this season between the two cross-county rivals.
Celebrating their Senior Night, Luray (0-3) put up a good fight in the early going, only trailing the Panthers by two at the end of the first period, 13-11. But the Bulldogs only put up four points in the second period and trailed 31-15 at the half.
The Panthers (8-1) had four players in double-digits and continued to outscore Luray in the final two frames en route to a 31-point victory.
“I was really proud of our guys,” PCHS head coach Russ Rodriguez said after the game. “Guys one through 10 played really well tonight.”
Junior Ricky Campbell posted a game- and team-high 14 points for the Panthers, followed by senior Canaan Pierce with 13. Both Campbell and Pierce have been the top point producers for the Panthers this year.
Pierce joined the team from Mount Carmel Christian Academy last season and has really stepped into a leadership role as a team captain this season.
“We saw flashes of what he could do last season in practice,” Coach Rodriguez said. “Now we’re seeing several years of work coming together. He is simply a competitor…on both ends of the court.”
Juniors Dylan Hensley and Chase Partlett were also in double-digits with 11 and 10 points on the night, respectively.
A strong edition to this year’s team is junior point guard Caden Good, who moved up from the junior varsity program from a year ago. Not only did Good put up eight points on the night, he is showing continued improvement at running the Panther offense and earned the honor of being named the PVN Sports “Player of the Game” on Thursday night.
“He’s a great spark plug for us,” Coach Rodriguez said. “I have last year’s point guard, Trevor Williams on [the coaching] staff, and he has helped [Good’s] game improve.”
“Don’t let his size fool you,” Rodriguez said of his 5’6″ point guard. “He plays bigger than he is.”
The Bulldogs fought an uphill battle in the cross-county rivalry, only playing in their third game of the season due to COVID protocol — which has caused junior starters Calder and Sam Liscomb to be sidelined so far this season.
“We’re just thankful to be playing with everything going on,” LHS head coach Matt Huff said after Thursday’s game. “We realize we may never play with a full deck of cards…we haven’t yet. But as I told the guys, when adversity hits, you have to keep going and attack it. We’re just going to take it day-by-day.”
Missing players has caused the Bulldogs to make shifts that have taken them out of their comfort zone.
“I’m putting guys in positions they normally haven’t been in. We’ve been missing two starters all three games,” Coach Huff said. “It takes a toll on your psyche as a team, but we aren’t going to make excuses. We’re going to fight through it and just be thankful that we’re playing.”
The Bulldogs were lead by 6’5″ freshman Christian Lentz, followed by senior point guard Brendan Fitzwater.
The Panthers are currently ranked No. 6 among Group AA schools in Virginia, with “the team down the street” — East Rockingham — ranked No. 2. Powerhouse Radford High School is the top team in the division. The 2A grouping is one of the most competitive division in boys basketball in the state, with at least three AA teams ranked among the overall Top 10 in Virginia across all six classifications.
In order to advance in the postseason, Coach Rodriguez knows his team needs to continue to work on their fast-paced style of play. That’s why, when the Panthers had the Bulldogs on the ropes Thursday night, they didn’t take their foot off the gas, applying full-court defensive pressure and running the ball downcourt on offense.
“We don’t want to run a strategy when we get into bigger games, we want to play our game,” Coach Rodriguez said. “So when we get an opportunity in a game, we want to work on that stuff.”
Rodriguez noted his great respect for Coach Huff after the game, who attended Eastern Mennonite University at the same time. He stated that their style of play was more of the focus, rather than trying to run up the score on a rival.
“We were working on our game. We want to push the ball down the floor and keep the defense on their heels. We want to get out and run with the ball.”
“After the game, we talked about where we’re at, how we can get better at each position and how our mental focus at times can lapse, especially if we are up,” Rodriguez continued. “We need to work on our defensive effort. That ‘team down the street’…they are big. We need to look at how do we get them out of the paint. Our defensive effort and communication can improve.”
On Friday night, the Panthers will host Strasburg (3-3), while Luray travels to Stonewall Jackson (1-8).
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