ERHS’s John Wright goes to the hoop Friday night. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
ELKTON — For the East Rockingham High School boys’ basketball team to record its first ever Shenandoah District tournament win, coach Mark Palmer believed a rededicated approach to taking care of the ball and limiting opponents’ easy baskets was in order.
Playing Luray in the opening round Friday, the Eagles did have their share of turnovers, but thanks to what Mark Palmer called its “best defensive effort” in his three years as the Eagles’ coach, East Rockingham cruised to a 57-37 win.
After falling behind 3-0, the Eagles reeled off 14 consecutive points and never trailed after the opening minute. Seniors Tyler Hensley and John Wright both scored 18 points, with the veteran point guard Hensley connecting on all three of his 3-point attempts in the second quarter. Wright added 10 rebounds.
East Rock (14-10) forced Luray (9-14) into eight turnovers in the opening quarter and 15 in the first half, jumping out to a 34-18 halftime lead.
“Personally, that was our goal, which was to try to play on Thursday night at EMU,” Palmer said. “We’ve never had a chance to play there, and this is going to be awesome for us.”
East Rock will play top-seeded Page County, which beat No. 8 Buffalo Gap 83-47 Friday, at 6:30 p.m. this Thursday at Eastern Mennonite University. The other semifinal between No. 3 Stuarts Draft and No. 7 Riverheads will follow.
East Rock allowed just two points in the fourth quarter, the lowest total in a season the school has allowed in its brief three-year history.
“I thought defensively we were all over them all night, and that’s the reason we won this game,” Palmer said.
The only momentary lapse for the Eagles came in the third quarter, when they were held scoreless over the first 4 1/2 minutes coming out of halftime, before Wright hit a short jumper off an in-bounds play to break the drought.
Luray cut the deficit to seven before East Rock went on an 8-2 run to lead 50-37 in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs didn’t seriously threaten from there.
“That was our senior leadership tonight from Tyler and John,” Palmer said. “Tyler had a great second quarter, and John is such a phenomenal athlete. He was all over the glass for us.”
Junior center Joseph Gooden provided the defensive presence for East Rock down low, finishing with nine blocks, including seven in the paint.
Junior forward Malcolm Frye was the only double-digit scorer for Luray, finishing with 14 points.
“We scored two points in the fourth quarter,” Luray coach Jim Sanders said, providing a brief head-shaking summation for his team’s demise.
With the loss, the Bulldogs aren’t officially eliminated from advancing to the regional tournament, but will need some help from other teams in Region B.
“The season’s not over yet; there’s still a chance we can make it into regionals, and I’m not going to fold up the tent until it’s over,” Sanders said.