Panthers come up just short of state bid and shot at Region B title

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By Randy Arrington

BERRYVILLE, Feb 24 — Many didn’t think they would get this far. After losing standout senior Leah Hilliard in the first half of the first game at Broadway, aspirations for the Panthers’ season began to diminish. Page would lose their next four games before beginning to level the ship, but they would struggle all season to stay above .500.

When Page County lost to Clarke in the first round of the Bull Run tournament last week, some felt the season was basically over. The Panthers would have one more game in the Region B tournament, but they would have to face undefeated Buckingham County (then 19-0) who had mowed down all the competition in the James River District. But the Panthers weren’t done.

Behind 17 points and 12 rebounds from senior Caris Lucas, the seventh-seeded Panthers found a way to travel more than two hours south on Tuesday night and hand the second-seeded Knights their only loss of the season.

That lead to a Region B semifinal match-up Thursday night at Clarke County. Despite the loss to the Eagles in the Bull Run quarterfinal, Page had split with Clarke during the regular season.

While the Panthers made an impressive 10-0 run to open the region semifinal, the Eagles took the lead midway through the second period and never looked back. Clarke held a 25-20 lead at the half and took a 12-point margin into the fourth quarter.

However, with only a few minutes left in the game, Page drew within six points — two possessions — of the Eagles, but they would get no closer. Clarke pulled away and closed out a 62-51 win.

Page County closes out the season at 10-14, not what they had hoped for when they started in early December. Yet, given the obstacles they faced, to get within a couple of baskets and a few minutes of a state playoff berth seems incredible.

Had the Panthers not committed 25 turnovers during the semifinal game and hit more than one-third of their shots, maybe things would be different…but there are several positive takeaways from an otherwise disappointing season.

One would be the hard work, effort and maturity shown on the court by seniors Gracie Mason and Lucas. Even when they were down, they never stopped playing hard and they never stopped being leaders on the court. Next season, Lucas heads to Eastern Mennonite University to study nursing and play women’s basketball, while Mason will be studying engineering at James Madison University.

Another positive comes in looking to the future of this program. While Page loses seniors Hilliard, Mason and Lucas — who were with the program four years — they still have a solid sophomore trio rising up in Adryn Martin, Baliee Gaskins and Faith Mason. Combined with the talents of juniors Alexis Frymyer and Montana Foltz, the Panthers will be contenders again next year.

During Thursday night’s semifinal at Clarke, the seniors showed up as Lucas lead the team with 16 points, while Mason added nine. But the underclassmen were right there, as Martin posted 14 points and Frymyer had six.

With the win, Clarke (17-8) earns its first playoff berth since 2015 and will be facing No. 1 Luray (24-2) for the Region B championship at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Spotswood High School.

For full schedules, rosters and standings — check out the Bull Run District website.

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