By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer
I moved to Clovis from St. Louis about five months ago. Last July, I didn’t know what a Clovis Wildcat or a Hobbs Eagle was, much less that they were rivals. Friday night was my first taste of the Hobbs-Clovis experience.
From the moment I walked into Rock Staubus Gymnasium, I knew this game was something special, and not just because there were more people there; the ticket-checker had a little jump in her step, the band played with a little more oomph, and the cheerleaders’ kicks and pikes were a little more crisp.
Another few quick things that told me this game was special:
* How far Clovis coach J.D. Isler stepped out onto the floor. In a normal game, Isler will take a few steps off the bench to argue a call or call a play. On Friday, Isler was so far off the sideline, if he would have taken a jump shot, it would have been from inside the 3-point line.
* The looks on the faces of both teams after the game. Hobbs’ star Austin Turner looked like my mom if she found out “Oprah” was canceled. On the other hand, someone could have run over Clovis guard Jaden Isler’s dog and he’d still be grinning ear-to-ear.
• How disappointed Hobbs coach Russ Gilmore was after Clovis’ 92-84 win. When I interviewed to him, he ran through a list of about 15 sports clichés. It seemed like he was hoping that if he was generic enough, he could completely forget about the last two hours.
I have to say, for a first-timer at a Clovis-Hobbs game, I had the best seat in the house. I sat on press row with a Hobbs radio station directly to my left and a Clovis radio station directly to my right. If Bryce Hill drew a foul on the way to the hoop, I’d hear, “the ref completely missed the charge call” in my left ear and, “Hill made a great move and drew contact” in my right.
The student cheering section was absolutely fantastic, and there is no question in my mind that they rattled the Eagles in the first half. Look no further than the fact Hobbs went 3-of-10 from the free throw line for the half as evidence.
The rowdy Clovis faithful lived and died with every foul, free throw and basket.
When Devin Sweet kicked out a rebound and Cody Thornsbury nailed a 3-ball to put the Cats up seven late in the fourth quarter, there was no question the student section knew the game was over. They went so completely insane that, for one moment, I was honestly concerned if the stands would collapse.
(The question I have for the student section is this — Why not every game? Now that I’ve seen what you’re capable of, I don’t understand why The Rock has been a hostile environment for the opposing team exactly once all season. I know every game isn’t a rivalry, but did anyone not have fun? Does anyone regret going? Is there any reason why every home game shouldn’t be packed?)
Yes, they have basketball in St. Louis. In fact, my high school, McCluer High, is pretty dang good at it. The problem is, my high school’s biggest rival, McCluer North, is consistently terrible. It’s just hard to get too excited for a game when you know the B-team will be checking into the game midway through the third quarter. And yes, it’s fun to get a dig at my high school rivals from 870 miles away. Go Comets.
Clovis and Hobbs, on the other hand, was like watching Hickory High and South Bend Central in “Hoosiers.” You knew neither team was going to run away with it, you knew the game would be decided in the fourth, and, sure enough, it was.
Sweet’s rebound, Thornsbury’s shot, and Jaden Isler’s ensuing free-throw barrage made my first Clovis-Hobbs experience something I’ll never forget.
Jesse Wolfersberger is a CNJ staff writer. He can be reached at 763-6991 or by e-mail at: email@example.com