All it took was some clapping and good-natured trash talk to turn the Harrison-Mitchell game into a festive affair Tuesday night.
The rivals battled at a high intensity level for the majority of the game, which the Panthers (11-11, 7-8 4A Colorado Springs Metro League) won 70-65 on the road.
Mitchell (8-14, 6-9) led 19-13 after one quarter, but Harrison used a 12-2 run to take its first lead of the game late in the second quarter. Then, with the score tied at 33, Harrison sophomore Orlando Westbrook earned a technical foul for clapping and talking in the face of Mitchell senior Quindell Bryant.
"I'm just glad it was in the second quarter, and not the fourth," Harrison coach Orlando Sanchez said with a laugh.
Westbrook backed up his talk, scoring a game-high 20 points and leading the Panthers to a big win, which keeps hope alive for a first-round home playoff game in the 4A state tournament.
"That made us take our game to another level, because we always take care of our teammates," senior Quinzel Harding said of the incident between Westbrook and Bryant. "This was huge, because we want to get as many wins as we can and get to be at home in that first round - if we do that, we'll win."
Harding had 18 points, Enrique Johnson added 16 and Eric Montgomery scored 11 for Harrison, which was ranked 35th in the RPI entering this week. The Panthers would need to be in the top 32 to host a first-round game.
This game quickly turned into a playoff-type atmosphere in the second quarter. As the teams traded baskets in the second half, both fan bases remained loud and supportive.
Mitchell used an 8-0 run to take a 65-64 lead with one minute left, but Harrison scored the last six points, including two free throws from both Westbrook and Montgomery.
"We knew we were OK when they took the lead, because we've been in that position before," Sanchez said. "We essentially started the playoffs like two weeks ago, and I told them to be in that mindset of grinding like it's the playoffs."
"We usually take off in the second half and start scoring more, but we need to start faster," Johnson said.
"We're used to being in tight games like this, but if we start better, we won't have to do this."
While Harrison is safely in the field of 48 and is eying a first-round home game, Mitchell is in a battle for its playoff life.
The Marauders entered the week 48th in the RPI, but face Elizabeth in the season finale, most likely needing a win to punch their ticket.
"It would mean everything to get to be in the dance," said Bryant, who scored a team-high 17 points. "But we have to be able to execute on offense and defense at the end of games."
Mitchell coach Jamie Anderson liked the fight his team showed and hopes they get a shot in the playoffs.
"We missed some shots we usually make down the stretch, and they made some big shots," he said. "It was like two prizefighters exchanging punches, and that's how we expected it to be. I'm hoping these guys are getting comfortable in pressure situations."