Rams’ return to court ends in blowout loss to Panthers

Strasburg's Trevor Taff makes an off balance pass during first quarter action Tuesday night against Page County in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Strasburg High School’s boys basketball team’s return to the court was spoiled by visiting Page County on Tuesday night.

Page County, last year’s Conference 36 tournament champion and a Region 2A East semifinalist, flashed a balanced offense that featured a trio of double-digit scorers and a pressure defense that forced the Rams into 23 turnovers as the Panthers pounded the Rams, 73-47, in their debut under new head coach Hamilton Doyle.

It was Strasburg’s first game since Jan. 7 of last season, when an incident of misconduct involving players led to the cancellation of the remainder of the Rams’ 2015-16 campaign.

“It felt pretty good because we had a big crowd for our first game,” said Rams senior Cory Clinedinst, “so it pretty much put confidence to me and I feel like we had confidence on the team the first part of the first quarter. But we really didn’t do too good on offense. We didn’t move it. On defense we weren’t matching up with everybody. But I thought we did pretty good for our first time back.”

Clearly battling the expected growing pains – Clinedinst and classmate Trevor Taff are the only two Rams to have played for Strasburg’s varsity squad last season on this year’s 14-man roster – the Rams shot just 31.1 percent (19 for 61) from the floor and struggled to protect the basketball against an aggressive Panther defense.

Strasburg's Grant Scott fires a shot over Page County's Joel McKay during the first quarter of Tuesday night's game in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Fifteen of Strasburg’s 23 turnovers came in the first half, which, paired with Page County’s ability to generate consistent looks in the paint while knocking down shots on the perimeter, buried the Rams in a 45-22 halftime deficit.

“I think there are gonna be some times where it’s gonna look like it’s a work in progress but I think sometimes today we showed we’re capable of doing some things,” said Doyle, who held particular praise for the poise showed by freshmen guards Dylan Hamrick (8 points) and Trevor Sager. “It’s just putting it together and finding a right rotation.”

Clinedinst sank the game’s first bucket 40 seconds into the new season, a 3-pointer from the wing that was followed by baskets from teammates Mathew Hoover and Garrett Jenkins that helped Strasburg to a 7-6 advantage with five minutes to play in the first period. Then Page County’s defense took over.

The Panthers forced five turnovers of the final 4:30 of the frame, during which they had four 3-pointers and a trio of and-ones to fuel a 21-7 run.

Page County coach Russ Rodriguez said the first few minutes of the game were a feeling-out process for the Panthers.

Strasburg's Justin King throws a hook pass over Page County's Ryan Cave during second quarter action Tuesday night in Strasburg. County's Rich Cooley/Daily

“We really wanna be a defensive team,” Rodriguez said. “We wanna get out there and pressure aggressively, and so at first they were attacking there offensively … but once we got in those passing lanes with that pressure defense, that led to our good offense and that led to us getting some wide-open threes and that puts you ahead.”

Strasburg (0-1) mustered just 8 points in the second period, a number the Rams matched with eight turnovers, seven of which were steals by the Page County defense.

“We pretty much laid an egg when they would pressure us,” Clinedinst said.

Page County opened the third period with three straight buckets, the third a 3-pointer from Tanner Conley that put the Panthers up 52-22 with 6:42 left in the quarter. That lead would stretch to as much as 35 points in the frame before the Rams slowly chipped into the deficit by outscoring the Panthers 18-6 in the fourth period.

The Panthers shot 53.8 percent from the floor in the win and hit 25 of 43 shots from the floor – including 8 of 16 3-pointers – through the first three periods (Rodriguez played his reserves over the final seven minutes of the game). Page County also enjoyed a 40-29 rebounding advantage.

Strasburg's Samuel Hopkins goes up under the basket as Page County's Joel McKay defends during first quarter action Tuesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Led by juniors Conley (game-high 18 points) and Nathan Lucas (17 points) and 6-foot-2 senior forward Joel McKay (13 points, seven rebounds), the Panthers scored 36 points in the paint.

Senior Sam Hopkins led Strasburg with 13 points and six rebounds in the loss, while Hoover added 6 points and six boards. Justin King had 7 points for the Rams.

“There’s a lot of things we have to do to get organized but I kind of knew we were gonna be disorganized at certain positions because some people haven’t had any game experience. And a lot of guys this was their first varsity experience, period,” Doyle said. “I think throw it in with an experienced (opposing) team and stuff – what did we lost by, 26 points? That’s not too bad of a showing. We play these guys in a couple weeks. I think we’ll be a little more organized. I just think we need some game experience and get to know each other chemistry-wise and stuff, and people actually learn the system.”

Strasburg returns to action Friday night with a home game against county rival Stonewall Jackson.

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