A game to remember in Mecca

Most sportswriters go into the business for the love of the game or at least some kind of fondness toward sports in general.

But like in life, some games are always more exciting to cover than others. It’s just the nature of sports.

However, some games get the blood pumping no matter how many games we’ve seen and covered, so much so that the desire to lace up the shoes and step out on the floor is there. The Maplewood-Bristol game on Tuesday night, which ended in favor of the Rockets, 58-54, was one of those games.

The two teams went after it like only heated rivals could, with both teams laying it all on the court. They dove after loose balls, fought for every rebound and, in stretches, answered the other team’s field goal with one of their own.

Despite both teams totaling well below their season average in points (Maplewood averaged 64.8 and Bristol 72.7 per game), the gritty play made up for the struggles with turnovers and, in the case of Bristol, shooting.

While play was fun to watch, the atmosphere made the entire experience great.

If you showed up at Maplewood High School at 6:30 p.m., good luck trying to find a parking spot, let alone a seat in Oscar Grant Gymnasium. Halfway through the second quarter of the junior varsity game, people had to park on the lawn in front of the school (which left at least one car stuck in the mud) and empty seats were few and far between.

It was as if the entire communities of Bristolville and Mecca crowded into the gym.

Both student sections brought their A-games, too. The Maplewood student section unfurled a banner that had a quote (with one minor detail changed) on it from the famous book series by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” trilogy and they were loud from even before the end of the JV game.

The Bristol student section weren’t to be outdone either, although the Panthers trailed for all but 18 seconds of the game. The students belted out a soccer chant entitled, “We Love Ya,” which because of the lack of any soccer terminology, allows it to easily be used for any sport, and they were heard throughout the game.

This created an electric atmosphere, and the energy and tension was palpable. The crazy atmosphere and the fact that MyYTV selected it as the “Game of the Week” played a role for those on the floor, giving them some motivation to put on an inspired performance from beginning to end.

“Before the game, our assistant coach told us not every school gets this opportunity,” Maplewood’s Luke Evan said. “Everyone knew that, and it’s always a dream to be on TV. So, it helped us have extra motivation, and we just wanted to get it.”

It was a great advertisement for the Northeastern Athletic Conference, as well as for one of the best rivalries in the Mahoning Valley.