The calendar says early December, but it felt more like late August inside Olathe East’s gym on Friday night.
As for the show put on by Olathe East and Blue Valley North? East’s 58-55 victory in the season opener for both schools smacked of mid-March mayhem.
North’s Mychal Masterson’s potential game-tying three-pointer from the right wing kicked out of the rim just before the final buzzer sounded.
The roller coaster of the game was well worth the ride.
East, 1-0, led throughout the first half and pushed its lead to 10 early in the third quarter. It was at that point when North senior forward Cooper Cook pulled the Mustangs, 0-1, back into the game by getting hot enough to radiate pure energy.
Cook pumped in 31 points, including 16 straight for the Mustangs in the third quarter that tied the game at 37-37.
“I think we all just wanted to fight. We started playing with a lot of passion at that point and really were relentless,” Cook said. “We didn’t want to give in to them.”
The Hawks were the deeper team, despite having the shorter bench. Javion Blake (18 points), Cameron Hunter (13 points) and Cedric Roland (10 points) took turns getting to the rim down the stretch.
“We have a lot of athletic players; myself, Cameron Hunter.. Dion, and we’ve got Josiah (Talbert) and Cedric who can dribble, and they’re bigger so people don’t expect them to dribble,” Blake said. “We’re very athletic.”
Hunter’three-point play with 1:34 left put the Hawks up four, but Cook answered with one of his own just seconds later.
Dion Union sank two free throws with 38 seconds left, putting the Hawks up three, and they were able to survive North’s final possession.
“We didn’t get it done defensively. We didn’t do a good job in transition, and that’s definitely where the game was won,” Cook said.
This game evolved into an unofficial tradition for both schools in recent years, and it wasn’t disappointing.
“We have played them so many years for first game, and the game’s always one, two three, four points. It doesn’t matter if we’re at home or on the road,” East coach Jim Super said. “The good thing about it for us and for them, I hope, is you want to know what you’re capable of… It was a good ballgame for the first game; two teams went at it really hard.”
It was a big enough win that the Hawks celebrated at center court with the student body after the final buzzer sounded.
Blake took a deep breath before he joined the scrum. He thought the game was headed to overtime there at the final second.
“It’s a test for us to see what we’re made of, and me being the only senior, it’s a test for them to see how they react,” Blake said. “It was a good game for us.”