ERHS Boys Try To Buck History
They’ve Been Erased In The First Round The Past Two Seasons
But as past Shenandoah tournaments have showed, both ERHS teams need to be on their guard as higher seeds.
Today, the eighth-seeded Page County girls will face the undefeated Eagles (22-0 overall, 14-0 in the Shenandoah) at 6 p.m. in Elkton. The East Rock boys (12-10, 8-6) will follow against fifth-seeded Luray at approximately 8 p.m., playing in the 4-5 matchup for the second straight time.
The winners advance to the semifinals, which again will be held at Eastern Mennonite University.
“This is huge for us. This is a big game in that, we’ve never played at EMU,” ERHS boys’ coach Mark Palmer said of the neutral court for the tournament’s final four. “… Plus, it gives us a better opportunity to maybe host a first-round regional game.”
In the past two seasons, Stuarts Draft and Buffalo Gap beat the Eagles in the first round en route to district boys’ championship game appearances, and Draft won it all last year as a No. 5 seed.
Luray coach Jim Sanders said the Bulldogs have that same opportunity, but will need a better defensive effort — especially since East Rock resembles the past two Luray teams that reached the state tournament, having an experienced point guard (senior Tyler Hensley) and depth inside.
“They’ve got a lot of size,” Sanders said. “Their kids have gotten a lot better inside. They’ve got a senior point guard, which I think makes all the difference in the world.”
To win the first playoff game in program history would be a big step for Hensley and the Eagles. Luray’s youngsters might be standing in the way.
Freshman 6-3 center Josh Good and 6-1 sophomore guard/forward Robert VanWyck stepped up offensively to trouble the Eagles in a 59-52 loss in Elkton. But East Rock – which committed 32 turnovers in the Luray loss – beat the Bulldogs soundly, 68-45, on Jan. 18, before losing three of its final five regular-season games. All three defeats were against the top three seeds: Page County, Wilson Memorial and Stuarts Draft.
“If we can take care of the basketball and slow down a little bit – we don’t want their 2-3 zone extended set up [like Syracuse],” Palmer said. “That really gives us problems.”
The winner of East Rock and Luray will likely face top-seeded Page, which will need to get past one-win Buffalo Gap. The semifinals are Thursday and final next Friday, all at EMU’s Yoder Arena.
“The reason I think our tournament gets so competitive and so open is that if you can come out of that first-round game – that quarterfinal game – then yeah, you’re playing on a neutral floor at EMU and anything is fair game,” Sanders said.
ERHS girls’ coach Paul Comer said his Eagles are focused on Page County, which they’ve outscored 146-93 in two wins this season. East Rock has already secured a Region B berth by winning the regular-season title.
A victory tonight, though, could create a rematch with fourth-seeded Stuarts Draft in the district semifinals. The Cougars seriously threatened East Rock’s current 50-game winning streak on Jan. 29 in Elkton, leading by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter after regularly breaking a full-court press for layups. But an 11-2 run fueled by a pair of guards – senior Jessica Lam and junior Katie Dofflemyer – saved East Rock’s flawless season.
It took overtime a year ago for East Rock to advance past Luray into the district title game. But the Draft scare might have been all the Eagles needed to refocus.
“It’s one of the first things the kids were talking about when we came into the locker room,” Comer said. “That’s a wakeup call for us. The kids didn’t need coaches to tell them that.”
If East Rock wins, it will play either Draft or fifth-seeded Riverheads on Tuesday at EMU (8 p.m. nightcap). The girls’ championship game will also be at EMU next Friday (6:30 p.m.).
There is one huge positive for the Eagles as they try to defend their Division 1 state championship.
“I think we’re as healthy as we’ve been in three years – knock on wood,” said Comer, who has been without all-around stars Meghan Nicholson, a senior center, and Dofflemyer for three games each this season, with some overlap. “We don’t have anyone other than [junior substitute] Stacie Bailey out right now with a lingering ankle injury, and we’re expecting to get her back [soon].”