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March 7, 2013

Courrier column: East-West basketball rivalry still strong

The three-game series between the boys basketball teams from Mankato East and Mankato West is in the books, and it turned out to be more entertaining than expected.

West appeared to have the better team going into the season, though nobody knew how much the serious knee injury to center Dan Wills would affect the Scarlets.

East took a huge hit from graduation last season, and there was virtually no varsity experience coming back from a state-tournament team.

If you just looked at records, it would seem the Scarlets (16-9) and Cougars (6-21) should be a one-sided contest, but as everyone should know by now, there is nothing predictable about East vs. West.

The first meeting on Jan. 15 was played at Bresnan Arena. The Scarlets led the entire way, but an 11-point margin shrank to five with two minutes to go. Though West ended up winning 56-45, it showed that the Cougars were still dangerous.

The second game was played at East on Feb. 19, and East won 46-44. The Cougars led by nine midway through the second half, but the Scarlets rallied to within two points. However, neither team scored in the final 2:30 as East got some revenge.

The teams met for a third time in the quarterfinals of the Section 2AAA tournament Wednesday at a full West gym. West trailed by double digits midway through the second half before making a charge, and the teams were still even heading into overtime.

Jake Dale, who had missed two potentially winning free throws in the final seconds of the second half, started the extra time with a steal and layup, pushing West on its winning ways in a 54-47 victory

The skill level on these teams isn’t what it has been over the last 10 to 15 years, but the competition remains intense. If you attended any or all of the East-West games this season, you saw kids who played hard and competed fiercely.

The final score of these games will be forgotten someday, but the memories of competing in this rivalry will be stored forever.

There are several kids on both teams who will be back next season, and there’s no reason to expect any dropoff in the intensity of these in-city games. That’s what makes them so much fun, regardless of each team’s record.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. Check out his local sports blog or follow him on Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.

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