A boisterous crowd of students in blue and silver on one side and green and gold on the other bellowed through the night inside the cozy confines of the gym at Ironwood Ridge High School.
Those in attendance at the Oro Valley school were treated to a frenetically-paced basketball game, with dozens of lead changes and bad blood.
The visiting Dorados (2-1) were able to outlast the hometown Nighthawks, 79-72, thanks to a two-man scoring outburst by Antonio Vasquez and Tyler Lerew, who scored 21 points apiece.
It was the kind of night that first-year CDO coach Jason Apodaca dreamed of, taking over a Dorados program that won three games last season.
Apodaca praised his players for overcoming a night chocked full of foul calls and chippiness, with Oro Valley police officers cordoning off both sides’ student sections to prevent any extracurricular activity.
“I'm just so proud of our guys for battling. We were just so new to all this stuff, and I told the guys we're going to try to play hard every night,” Apodaca said. “I said we'd bring hard work back. That's it. It's not skill set, it's not set plays, it's not any magic offense, it's just heart and playing hard.”
Lerew touched on a similar topic post-game, vouching for how hard-fought the game was and how memorable the result is to CDO’s players.
“It is such a crazy feeling being able to be a part of a game of that level. Especially against our rivals,” Lerew said.
The Nighthawks (2-3) were able to wrestle the lead from the Dorados at the end of the third quarter, with a lead that swelled to 8 points at one point.
First-year IRHS coach Le’Sean Marks was proud of how his players refused to surrender on Thursday.
Marks knows that his squad will need to keep their energy level up to have a shot at improving on last year’s 6-19 record.
He’s confident that Thursday’s game is a step in the right direction, giving his players motivation to get back into the gym to work on the areas they struggled at against the Dorados.
“I was impressed with our effort. One of our main focuses has been giving 100% effort for the entire game and we did that tonight,” Marks said. “I also loved how we played together. We picked each other up and showed the team unity that we are hoping for.”
Marks’ squad was led offensively by Kolby Latrop and Erick Cochran, who scored 17 and 16 points, respectively.
He’s confident that the pair, and the rest of the Nighthawks squad, can learn a lot from the heartbreak that comes from such a hard-fought loss.
“I hope our players learned how to play through the bad and ugly,” Marks said. “There were many things that didn't go the way we would like them, but we have to do a better job of moving on to the next play.”
Bad blood abounds
The theme of the night on Thursday was the amount of physicality displayed by both squads, with several players fouling out during the contest.
The plethora of foul calls, and the plays upon which the violations were called, were a sticking point for both coaches.
Apodaca was assessed a technical foul, after he questioned a call made against one of his players.
The former Pima Community College assistant coach said the night’s energy was something he won’t soon forget.
“You have to give Ironwood Ridge credit, this was a phenomenal game for high school basketball,” Apodaca said. “[IRHS] played their butts off, we played our butts off. If you came as a fan it doesn’t get better than that.”