A Night To Remember

very popular notion among sports enthusiasts is that, when all is said and done, you participate in sports for the memories. Of course, you don't necessarily realize it when you're a young athlete, but as the years pass, you gradually give more credence to the idea.

This past Saturday night will forever serve as a great testament to that sentiment. Twice a year the Berkshire League creates within its basketball season what it calls Rivalry Night. For some, the matchups are not so steeped in tradition, but for others there is plenty.

You can start with the Litchfield-Wamogo game, Thomaston-Terryville and Shepaug-Nonnewaug, but when it comes to local interest, nothing compares to the Gilbert-Northwestern matchup.

In what is a home and home series that includes both boys and girls varsity games scheduled back-to-back, sellouts or large crowds are the norm. You can always count on a sellout at Gilbert, especially because of the limited seating capacity of the Yellowjackets home court (fewer than 500 people). Across town at the spacious confines of the Northwestern gym, the norm is twice that number, regardless of each team's respective record coming into the game.

This year, however, there was an added twist.

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Let me step back for a moment and remind everyone that Northwestern lost the use of its main gym, which meant the Highlanders would have to play their entire season without a home game. With that said, the Highlanders were faced with finding a place to play their half of the home-and-home series against Gilbert. In the end, Northwestern managed to secure the use of the Torrington High School gym, and although it wasn't the same as playing at Northwestern, the game certainly succeeded in providing plenty of memories for all in attendance.

Adding to the intrigue of the season's first matchup between these longtime rivals was the fact that the Highlanders entered the game with a record of 8-0 and in first place in the Berkshire League (keep in mind that all of those wins were on the road). As for Gilbert, they were coming off a huge home victory over Terryville that improved their record to 7-1 and gave the Jackets sole possession of second place in the league standings.

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The girls game got underway at 5:30 p.m. Midway through the second half of the game, two things became evident. As the crowd swelled, the Lady Highlanders had complete control of the game. In what had to be a first, by game's end the girls found themselves playing in front of 1,000 fans or better. Without question, the Highlander girls will forever remember winning the game, but having the opportunity to play in front of so many people could very well be the most lasting memory of the evening for all of the games' participants.

Next, it was time for the boys game, and the estimated crowd of more than 1,600 was buzzing with anticipation. Hundreds of students from both schools had come out to show their support.

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Highlanders fans were decked out in red T-shirts, painted faces and fly swatters, poised to swat the Yellowjackets into submission. On the other side of the gym, Jackets fans, wearing blue and gold and painted faces, responded by dragging a large plastic deer, symbolic of the Highlander mascot, into the gym, to the roar of the Gilbert crowd. It's safe to say the place was rockin'.

The game itself lived up to all the expectations in terms of excitement. On this night the Gilbert Yellowjackets would squeak by with a two-point victory, 55-53, moving the team into a tie with their cross-town rivals for the conference lead. For Gilbert, unsung heroes emerged in the form of T.J. Monka, Diego Cevallos and Jorge Pimental, all of whom played pivotal roles in the Jacket victory. Northwestern's Chris Laudati gave an all-star performance en route to scoring a game-high 29 points in a valiant effort to lead his team to victory.

In the end, all of the game's participants will remember that they had participated in the largest attended game in Berkshire League history, and as for the fans, they can lay claim to being a part of that record-setting crowd. Make no mistake - Saturday's game succeeded in providing plenty of excitement and, more importantly, lasting memories for everyone in attendance, especially the players.

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