For the first time in what seems like the entire season, there is no boys high school basketball game taking place in the Clay County area this weekend.
Both Northview and Clay City finished up its regular seasons on Thursday and now are preparing for a run through the sectional tournaments, which begin Tuesday night – at Edgewood for Northview and at White River Valley for Clay City.
So, with no games on the docket, I wanted to take a look back at last Friday’s matchup between the Knights and Eels.
As you may – or may not – remember from my introductory column when I took over as the Sports Editor back in October, I mentioned that I was born and raised in Terre Haute and attended Terre Haute North High School.
And because of that, the only rivalry I knew the ins and outs of was between Terre Haute North and Terre Haute South.
After graduating from Indiana State, I was hired by the Tribune-Star and began to see several other rivalries around the Wabash Valley.
From Sullivan-Linton to West Vigo-Northview to Paris-Marshall in Illinois, I covered a decent amount and quickly realized North-South was not the only matchup that packed gymnasiums and brought emotions out of the student-athletes that a typical game would not.
But, boy, Friday night’s game showed the Battle of Clay County stacks up right near the top of the rest of the Valley’s best rivalries.
Going into the game, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Throughout the week leading up to it, I heard from several people on each side. And nearly every one of them had a different opinion on it.
“How can it be a rivalry when the schools have a 1,000-student difference between their enrollment numbers?”
“All of the kids grew up with each other and have played against each other their whole lives. It’s a game both schools want to win for bragging rights alone.”
“It’s a game people care about in the Clay County area.”
I heard it all, but I went into it with an open mind and wanted to check it out for myself.
Leaving The Brazil Times office earlier than I normally do for a game, I thought for sure I would find myself a close parking spot within shouting distance of the Eel Dome.
I pulled into the parking lot 10 minutes before the junior varsity game got underway and quickly realized I had better search a little farther away because there wasn’t anything available.
I finally found one near the baseball field and entered the Eel Dome, as I usually do. And when I opened the doors, I couldn’t believe that it was nearly filled to the brim.
Northview brought a large contingent of fans – as it typically does – which included a student section decked out in Star Wars attire, while Clay City did the same with its students going with the white out look.
The way the game went, and how Clay City got back into it late, it set things up just the way everyone envisions a rivalry playing out.
With every basket – or missed shot – one fan base let out a roar of excitement.
The players were fist pumping on big makes, while the benches were on their feet when anything went their way.
I recorded a video of Caden Cannon’s game-winning lay-in from Jacob LaFary on my phone and after going back and looking it over later that night, one player that kept popping up in the right-hand corner embodied what the emotions were like for most in attendance.
Clay City senior Bryce Patterson, who made the inbounds pass to Cannon, sprinted around the baseline and ended up in the corner in front of the Eels’ bench. He, along with everyone else in the gym, looked on as Cannon went up for the alley-oop pass.
He made a couple of nervous jumps, hoping to see the play that was drawn up work. And once it fell through the net, he jumped around, pumped his fist in the air and let out several yells of excitement.
Was the emotion he, along with everyone else inside the Eel Dome, felt due to the way the game transpired? Maybe.
But from my perspective, even if one team would have won by 20+ points, the Northview-Clay City rivalry proved to be among the most underrated in the Wabash Valley and on Friday, it showed.