The James River basketball team’s run through the gauntlet continued in the past week as the Knights defeated a talented East Rockingham team in Harrisonburg, then lost a nail-biter to local power Northside in Roanoke County Monday.
The East Rockingham game was part of the Roger Bergey Classic, a two-day event that featured 10 games at Harrisonburg High School over Friday and Saturday. James River played in the 10th and final game against East Rockingham, the second ranked school in Virginia among the Class 2 ranks and last year’s state runner-up. River used a big third quarter to rally for a 74-68 win.
The Knights trailed 36-28 at the half but ramped up the pressure in the third quarter and won that period, 25-6, to take a 53-42 lead. The Eagles won three of the four quarters but the big third period was enough for River to pull out the win.
“Saturday’s matchup with East Rock felt like a state title type of game,” said River coach Ethan Humphries. “That’s about as big of a win as our program will come by. It took all five of our guys to hold (Tyler) Nickel to 38 points. He’s every bit as good as advertised and all the Carolina fans will enjoy watching him on TV the next few years, and maybe then some.”
Nickel, a UNC signee, was game high with 38 points. The COVID abbreviated season last year may have cost him a shot at being the all-time leading scorer in Virginia high school history.
While Nickel scored over half of East Rockingham’s points, the Knights spread it around with four players in double figures. Patrick Clevenger was game high with 20, followed by Ryan Steger with 17, Corey Easton with 13 and Heath Andrews with a dozen. Jayson Easton had nine.
On Monday a tough schedule continued with a trip to Northside. This one was nip-and-tuck throughout with Northside holding a one point lead after the first quarter and a two-point lead at the half. River led 4-39 after three quarters and opened a six-point lead at 47-41 with just under five minutes to go. However, the Vikings scored six straight points to tie the game and pulled it out down the stretch. River had the ball, down three, twice in the closing seconds but couldn’t get one to drop and lost 56-51.
“Northside was a tough one,” said Humphries. “We had our chances to put them away and wish we had a few plays back. Regardless, it made us better and gave us the experience we were looking for.”
Steger and Jayson Easton led River with 15 points each and Clevenger had 14. Northside’s pressure defense held the Knights to an uncharacteristic 39 percent shooting.
Now 5-2, River will be at home on Thursday to play host to Staunton River. Then they’re off until December 30 when they host Lord Botetourt.
“It will be nice to come back and play in front of our home fans,” said Humphries. “I think the community will love watching this group of guys as we progress throughout the season; there’s a lot of ball left to play.
“Heading into Christmas break at 5-2 with the gauntlet of a schedule we have had is something we’ll hold a lot of value in. Going on the road and playing second ranked East Rock on Saturday and then number one ranked Northside on Monday is something not a lot of teams sign up for. We’re proud of our guys for accepting the challenge and understanding the reasons why this stretch has made us a better ball club.”