By Brad Fauber
QUICKSBURG -- As closely as Stonewall Jackson played visiting East Rockingham for much of Friday's boys basketball game, the outcome never really seemed in doubt.
The Generals were able to rally from double-digit deficits and make it a one- or two-possession game on multiple occasions, but it never felt as if Stonewall Jackson was going to completely seize momentum. A run late in the third quarter by East Rockingham finally did the Generals in, as the Eagles expanded a two-point lead into an eventual 67-55 Shenandoah District win.
"The game was never close," Generals coach Patrick Smoot said. "The score might have looked close, but East Rock out-hustled us, they outworked us. They trapped, we panicked. We reverted back to our old ways and we just never felt confident in anything we did."
After trailing by as much as 10 points in the first half, Stonewall Jackson (3-4, 0-3 Shenandoah) cut it to a 26-20 deficit at halftime and rallied from a 12-point deficit in the third period to keep things interesting.
East Rockingham (5-4, 3-0) built a quick 34-22 lead in the third quarter following five straight points by senior center Shaquan James, but Stonewall stormed back over the next three minutes to make it a one-possession game.
Generals freshman guard Ian Pugh jump-started a 16-6 run for Stonewall by converting a traditional 3-point play after hitting a runner in the lane and making the ensuing free throw, and a 3-pointer from the left corner by guard Colton Harlow pulled Stonewall within 36-28 with 5:06 to play in the third period.
Stonewall senior center Corey Polk connected on a hook shot in the lane, and junior Ryan Smith and Polk each converted traditional three-point plays to pull the Generals within 40-38 with 3:22 left in the third period.
The Eagles struggled with Stonewall's man-to-man full-court pressure during the run, and back-to-back turnovers forced East Rockingham coach Mark Palmer to call a timeout.
"We didn't handle that real well towards the end of the game," Palmer said. "We should've done a better job. That's the first time we've seen a lot of pressure besides the first game of the season with Spotswood."
But just as quickly as Stonewall Jackson cut the game to one possession, East Rockingham was right back to a double-digit lead.
The Eagles scored the final nine points of the third period, and the run reached 12 straight East Rockingham points before Stonewall Jackson finally stopped the bleeding with a Harlow free throw that made it 52-39 with 7:11 left to play in the fourth.
"We started getting a little confident. We thought 'hey, maybe we've got something here.' And then all of a sudden, we come out of the timeout, and we've just discussed what we're going to do -- and I get blank looks, and there we go and give up a lay-up," Smoot said.
East Rockingham pushed its lead to as much as 16 points in the fourth quarter, and Smoot put in his backups midway through the final period. Even when Stonewall Jackson trailed by 12 points with just over two minutes left to play, Smoot elected to keep most of his starters on the bench.
"They weren't doing what they needed to do, might as well give somebody else a chance," Smoot said of his starters. "They had three and a half quarters to figure it out, and they didn't do it. We'll find somebody else to."
Stonewall Jackson, which used full-court pressure for most of the game, struggled to contain the Eagles inside, particularly junior forward Logan Lam. The junior scored the first 11 points for East Rockingham in the first period and finished with a game-high 25 points, most of which came in the paint.
James also had 14 points for East Rockingham, all of which came in the second half.
"We had no answer for [Lam]. We couldn't seem to stop him," said Polk, who led Stonewall with 17 points. "Down low they were getting a lot of looks and they were just finishing."
East Rockingham shot 27 for 49 (55.1 percent) from the field in the win, while the Generals hit just 19 of 56 (33.9 percent) shots.
Harlow finished with nine points for Stonewall, while Pugh, Smith, Nathan Miller and Kory Summers each finished with five points.
Chase Comer added 14 points for the Eagles.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org