Ridaught: Rivalry games are special

Tonight, in Gainesville there are two big boys basketball games involving Alachua County teams.

Buchholz hosts Gainesville and Eastside is at home against Hawthorne.

Ever since I moved to Gainesville in the late 90s, I’ve always enjoyed these city and county rivalries.

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They’re special and memorable. You can always expect an intense game, close, and standing room only.

“These rivalries are what brought me back to Gainesville,” said first-year Buchholz coach Blake Golden, an assistant under former long-time coach Bob Horodyski. “I have a ton of memories of these games through the years. My first high school basket was a 3-pointer against GHS and one of my first game winners as a coach was against Eastside.”

Gainesville High School has dominated the series against rival Buchholz since 2006 with a 28-5 record, winning two in a row and 14 of the last 15.

But in rivalry games you can throw out the rankings, the records, and the stats.

“Even before I started coaching high school ball, just as a fan of basketball, attending these city games, you could always tell the games meant a little bit more to all parties involved,” said new Gainesville coach Michael Barnes, who took over this year for future Hall of Fame coach Kelly Beckham. “The players, the fans, the coaches, no matter the records, there is always an intensity in the air. I am sure Friday will be no different.”

Adding more significance to the Buchholz-GHS game is that both teams reside in Class 6A-District 3, along with the No. 1 team in Class 6A, Fleming Island (Orange Park), which is also the No. 2 team in The Prep Zone Power Poll, which ranks the top 20 teams across 26 counties in Florida.

GHS (14-7) has won six in a row, including a 45-36 win against Eastside on Jan. 14 which snapped a 7-game losing streak against the Rams.

“I give my guys all the credit,” Barnes said. “They play extremely hard. Like most teams we have some limitations, but the guys have embraced the coaching that they have been given. We let them know what their strengths are and how they can best help the team.”

Both coaches know that their teams will be ready tonight.

“In these city games, the guys are always locked in during the days of practice leading up to the game, warming up prior to the game and during the game,” Barnes said. “They know all eyes are on them and they don’t want to disappoint.”

However, anticipation must be kept at bay.

“During the first meeting we had ton of emotion going into the game,” Golden said. “Being able to control that and do our jobs will be key.”

Buchholz (10-12) has been up and down. However, eight of the Bobcats’ 12 losses have been by four points or less or gone into overtime, including a 56-55 loss at GHS on Jan. 7.

“Getting a win vs. GHS would be great for many reasons,” Golden said. “It would help our ranking in the region, and It would let people know that Buchholz is hopefully getting closer to the level that the other city teams are.”

Theo Stephens leads Gainesville in scoring. He had 15 points in the first meeting.

But the ‘Canes have other weapons in senior R.J. Hines (10 in the last meeting) and juniors S.J. Westbrook (nine points), and Jordan Bodie (nine points). But they will be without Seth Childers, who had 11 in the win against Eastside and 19 a couple of weeks ago against Class 1A No. 2 Newberry, who may be out for the season with an ACL injury. 

Seniors Daryus Boyd (16 points) and Colsen Orth (11 points) led the ‘Cats in the first meeting.

“The first meeting I thought we executed pretty well,” Barnes said. “This time, playing at Buchholz and with what we are expecting to be a packed house, we have to be composed and execute, especially defensively. We have to do a better job blocking guys out. We have to hit shots. The game is always a little easier when shots are falling.”

Golden said his team will have to “keep GHS out of the paint.”

“They are one of the best driving teams around,” Golden explained. “We also have to keep them off the free throw line. For us offensively we need to continue to stay organized, execute and believe in ourselves.”

One thing that makes the Hawthorne-Eastside rivalry so special is that both coaches are alums of their respective schools. Hawthorne coach Greg Bowie played for the Hornets in the late 90s (Class of 99), while Eastside coach “Pop” Williams played at Eastside during the 80s.”

“Eastside is our biggest rival,” Bowie said. “The Hawthorne-Eastside game always provides a great basketball atmosphere. The bleachers are usually full during the JV game. The games traditionally come down to the wire.”

Hawthorne, which is ranked fourth in the state in Class 1A, enters the game with a record of 5-4 following back-to-back losses to Class 4A state runner-up Santa Fe and Class 3A P.K. Yonge by a combined seven points.

Class 4A Eastside has struggled this year with only four wins. Due to COVID-19, the Rams went two weeks without a game or practice.

They’re also a young team, which started two freshmen and a sophomore two weeks ago against GHS.

Last year’s game went down to the very end, with Eastside winning at Hawthorne, 62-61, last Jan. 29.

“Both teams are considered to be having a down year but yet the game will be exciting and intense,” Bowie noted. “The key to the game is to avoid a slow start, minimize turnovers, and win the rebound battle.”

Both games will be broadcast ‘live’ with the Buchholz-GHS game airing on 106.9 FM “I am Country” and online at  IamCountryRadio.com beginning at 7 p.m. (pregame).

The Eastside-Hawthorne game can be heard on MainStreetDailyNews.com beginning with the pregame at 7:15 p.m. The tip for both games is at 7:30 p.m.

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