Rams drop opener to Page

STRASBURG – Strasburg’s rally in the final minutes of Monday’s boys basketball season opener against visiting Page County fell just short.

The Rams spotted the Panthers a 15-point lead in the first quarter, then tried to get it all back in the final three minutes of the game only to come up a shot short in a 54-51 loss between a pair of Region 2A East tournament qualifying teams from a season ago.

“We were missing a lot of easy shots around the basket and they were just hitting their shots from the perimeter,” Rams sophomore guard Mekhi Hendricks said of a first period that saw Page County hit six 3-pointers. “That’s kind of one of those things where you just have to sit back and accept. You can’t really do anything about it. It’s really hard to come back, especially in a high school game with 8-minute quarters, to come back down 15-0.”

Hendricks and the rest of the Rams (0-1) tried to do just that in the game’s final three minutes.

With Strasburg trailing 48-33 in the fourth period, senior forward Tyler Brill (5 points, eight rebounds) got the Rams’ offense going with a 3-pointer from the corner with 2:45 to play that started an 18-6 Strasburg run to close out the game.

Page County (1-0) appeared firmly in control when Tylor Williams hit a fast-break layup with 50 seconds remaining before the Rams erupted for 8 unanswered points in a span of 30 seconds. Hendricks banked in a 3 from the top of the arc to start the run, and junior Tyler Fincham (15 points, four rebounds) followed with his own trey that cut the Panthers’ lead to 5 points with 24 seconds remaining.

Two missed Page County free throws – the Panthers missed their final seven free throws over the last 2 ½ minutes – allowed the Rams to cut the deficit to 54-51 as Hendricks drove baseline and converted a layup with 10 seconds left.

Strasburg scored more points (27) in the fourth quarter than they had through the first three periods combined.

“We just realized this is it, if we don’t do something now it’s gonna be the end of the game,” said Hendricks, who scored 13 of his game-high 21 points in the fourth period. “Then we started fouling them and they missed free throws. Things were going in our favor, but not enough.”

The Panthers missed two more free throws with 9 seconds to play, but Hendricks’ contested 3 from deep on the left wing in the waning seconds fell well short of the rim and was snagged out of the air by Page County’s Bradley Dovel (game-high 10 rebounds).

“I could’ve pump faked, got another step to the 3-point line. I was really thinking in the moment,” Hendricks said of his final shot, his only miss on seven attempts in the fourth quarter. “Just kind of came to me but now thinking back I could’ve done something different or run a play coming out of the rebound.”

Page County, which cooled off on offense over the final three periods, opened the game with a barrage of shots from the outside, connecting on 6 of 8 3-pointers in the first quarter. Four players combined for all six of those treys for the Panthers – Joel McKay (19 points) hit three of them – to open the game on a 15-0 run.

“We told (our players) all week, you’ve gotta keep them out of the middle of the floor,” Rams coach Matt Hiserman said. “… They wanna drive the middle of the floor and if they get in there they do a great job of kicking it out to the backside. Their guys slide up in the gaps and they find their shooters and they got hot early.”

Strasburg didn’t hit its first field goal until over five minutes into the game when Adam Miller connected on a 3-pointer. The Rams managed to chip into the deficit by limiting the Panthers to just 4 points in the second period.

Page County, which hit just one 3-pointer over the final three periods and finished the night shooting 45.8 percent (22 for 48), took a 26-19 lead into halftime.

Panthers coach Mike Purdham said his team “started falling in love” with the 3-point shot after its success in the first eight minutes.

“In this game, I don’t care if it’s layups. I don’t care if it’s jump shots or 3’s, you can’t fall in love with it. You’ve gotta stay diverse,” Purdham said. “I thought we got comfortable shooting it and once we lost it there a couple times it was hard to adjust.”

Both teams finished the game with 32 rebounds, while Strasburg turned the ball over 16 times to Page County’s 15.

The Rams shot 38.9 percent (21 for 54) from the field in the loss against Page County’s matchup zone defense and just 30.8 percent in the first half.

“I think what they do defensively kind of caused us some problems,” Hiserman said. “It’s hard to simulate what they do matching up and switching things, and it’s hard to get your kids to understand it’s really not much different than what we do. You can attack it but you can’t just stand there and pass the ball and let them reset. … You’ve gotta move the ball and get them chasing on the backside and then you can attack. But I thought we stood too much offensively.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com