By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, Jan. 15 — In the midst of a pandemic posing numerous challenges to teams due to COVID-19 protocols, and in the wake of graduating seven seniors from last year’s squad … Page County High School is currently undefeated at 5-0, as the short 2021 season nears the halfway point.
“We’re working hard as a program … we’re working hard to build a culture,” PCHS head coach Russ Rodriguez said after the Panthers’ 67-55 win over visiting Madison County on Friday night.
Page jumped out of the gate with a 17-9 run in the opening minutes of Friday’s Bull Run District matchup, behind three-pointers from juniors Dylan Hensley and Ricky Campbell. Madison struggled from the floor in the first period, shooting a meager 4-for-14.
Madison got going in the second frame, however, as Page went cold from the floor. The Panthers went five minutes without scoring, as Madison outpaced the home team 13-10 in the second quarter to trail by only two, 29-27, at the half.
Page would outscore Madison in both of the final two frames, despite a feisty back-and-forth through the third and most of the fourth quarter.
The game was tied at 49-49 with 4:58 left in the game, but Page went on a 18-6 run to finish the contest, shooting 14-of-18 from the foul line.
“In the second half, we pulled even with them. We executed well, and then went down two possessions and came up empty,” Madison head coach Ben Breeden said after Friday night’s game. “We lost track of the shooter on the inbound and they hit two big three-pointers… and then all of a sudden they had a six-point margin.”
PCHS senior guard Canaan Pierce hit three three-pointers on the night en route to a team-high 23 points, followed by Campbell with 15 points. Hensley racked up a double-double, with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The Bull Run District win keeps Page at the top of the standings, as Madison moves to 2-2 on the season.
Madison was lead by Jackson Taylor with 21 points, while Dean Breeden added 10. The Madison coach said in order to improve on their 2-2 record, the team needs leaders to step up.
“We have to continue to move the ball and get it inside to Taylor Finchum,” Coach Breeden said Friday night. “Dean Breeden and Jackson Taylor need to be leaders for us.”
Madison County has a full week coming up, with four games scheduled — at Rapp on Monday night, at home against Orange County on Tuesday, back to Rapp on Thursday, and back home to host Clarke on Friday.
Page County has two games set for next week. They picked up an extra game with Clarke County on Wednesday (the second of three scheduled games between the two schools), followed by a road game at Central of Woodstock on Thursday.
The Panthers were supposed to play district-rival East Rockingham next week, but that county’s requirement for all athletes (home and visitors) to wear masks during competition didn’t set well with Rodriguez, or many other coaches East Rock was originally scheduled to face.
“We have no incentive to do that,” Coach Rodriguez said.
So, the Panthers will not be facing their neighboring county rival until potentially the postseason. Due to a recent change to Rockingham County Public Schools’ mask policy during athletic competition, East Rock’s players will now be allowed to participate without masks in the playoffs.
Coach Rodriguez is not as surprised as everyone else at the success his young team has seen in the first half of the season.
“These kids are coming ready to play, so there’s not as much transition when they move up from JV,” Coach Rodriguez said. “Coach Adam Knighton had the JV last year and did such a good job preparing these guys that it’s not as big a jump.”
But he believes the true success of his program goes even deeper.
“I look at it from the perspective, how can I build a relationship with these guys, and that’s how you build a culture,” Coach Rodriguez said. “I push them, but they also push me.”
With only seven games remaining for the Panthers in the COVID-shortened season, the only two teams that Page has not defeated in the Bull Run District are East Rock (who they won’t meet until the postseason) and their in-county-rival Luray.
The Panthers and Bulldogs were scheduled to play next Friday, but COVID restrictions and quarantining has prompted Luray High School to put both boys and girls basketball on hold until at least Wednesday, Jan. 27.
In the Junior Varsity contest to start off the night on Friday, Page County captured a 56-43 win over Madison’s visiting JV squad.