By Jonah Rosenbaum
Most high school basketball games are just that: high school basketball games. A typical Mission League game features an almost empty gym, with the cheerleaders, parents and JV players who have just themselves played making up the majority of the crowd.
The score of the game is reported the next day in the back pages of the Los Angeles Times sports section, but no recap, no article, just a couple of numbers. When Harvard-Westlake takes on Loyola, it is not like most high school basketball games.
The battle does not start on the court, but rather on the internet. A week before the two teamsâ first meeting on Jan. 11, the Loyola basketball team created an event on Facebook, and encouraged students to attend the game. Within days, the group had attracted over 600, with wall posts vulgar enough to force Loyola to remove the “wall” feature from the page.
But Harvard-Westlake was not about to let Loyola control the technological aspects of the game. The Fanatics created their own group, and gleefully announced that “unlike Loyola, we do not delete comments. Feel free to hate.” Both sides accepted the offer.
Minutes after the JV game ended, the lights went out. The crowd worked itself into a frenzy. The Harvard-Westlake team charged on to the court, music blaring and, moments later, Loyola joined them. The visiting Loyola fans kept their first chant simple: “Loyola,” they screamed loudly, over and over again. If you didnât listen closely, you might have mistaken Harvard-Westlakeâs chant for Loyolaâs. However, the Fanatics made one small change, removing the âLâ and replacing it with a âBâ to remind the Loyola fans of their schoolâs all male student body.
Is it just the buildup, or is there something different about the actual game? For one thing, they almost always end up being decided in the final minutes. The last five minutes were decided by a total of 20 points.
“Itâs not that we care more or play harder,” forward Damiene Cain â11 said. “Every game is equally important and we always go all out. Itâs just that with the rivalry we have with Loyola, we want to beat them so badly and they want us just as bad. There is too much pride to allow one of us to blow out the other. Records go out the window. Someone will always step up and play the game of their lives to make sure itâs a great game.”
On Jan. 11 at home, that somebody was Miami-bound forward Erik Swoope â10. Swoope out-muscled, out-jumped and out-worked the Loyola big men for 33 points and eight rebounds.
Loyolaâs hot shooting allowed for them to take an early lead that they maintained until the fourth quarter. Loyola guard Miles Cartwright â10 had a chance to tie the game in the final minute, but his missed three sealed the game for the Wolverines.
Harvard-Westlake won 74-70, to wrestle away bragging rights from Loyola, who won the last meeting last season. The win extended the Wolverines win streak to nine games, and reestablished them as an elite team after an early season slump that began with a 2-4 record.
The loss was the first of the season for Loyola, who had been ranked among the top 50 in the country.
“It was a huge win for us obviously and we played great as a team, but I canât even explain how much it helped to have the Fanatics drowning out all the Loyola fans,” Nate Bulluck â10 said. “Whenever we needed a lift we got one from the fans, and when we went on our run in the fourth quarter, they helped us shift the momentum and finish the game.”
The rivalry did not end for the season after the first meeting, in fact it is only just beginning. Loyolaâs students instantly created a group called “Harvard-Westlake vs Loyola: The Rematch.”
Revenge was promised, and one Loyola student claimed “Harvard-Westlake outplayed us but there is no question that we will win this time. We are clearly the better team.”
Loyola and Harvard-Westlake both won their next five games, and Harvard-Westlake headed into the second and final matchup on a 15 game winning streak. Loyola sported an impressive 19-1 record.
In the first quarter, Harvard-Westlake could not be stopped. They led 21-6, and finished the quarter ahead 29-14. In the 18 days between the two games, Loyola had plenty of time to practice, but no amount of drills would have yielded a solution for forward Erik Swoope. He had nine first quarter points, and would finish the game with 37. The Wolverines would extend their lead to as much as 18, and the game appeared all but over. Loyolaâs once rowdy student section was silent and subdued, shocked at what they were witnessing. Soon they would have something to cheer about; Loyola finally woke up and stormed back.
Loyola cut the lead to 53-52 with under six minutes to play in the game. Though the Cubs had not led the entire game, they suddenly appeared poised to win the game. Then Harvard-Westlake forced the ball into Swoopeâs hands, and he refused to let his team lose. The visiting Wolverines closed the Cubs out with an 11-0 run.
The Fanatics chanted “This is our house,” and counted down the final seconds before spilling onto the court and celebrating at midcourt. The win all but clinched the Mission League for Harvard-Westlake, and put them in a strong position to finish the season undefeated in the Mission League, a feat they have not accomplished in a decade. Try as they might, Loyola simply could not stop Swoope.
“Heâs just an amazingly strong man and itâs going to take more than one mean to stop him, and we got the ball to him,” Head Coach Greg Hilliard said to the Los Angeles Times after the game.
Luckily for Loyola, Swoope will be a Miami Hurricane the next time the two teams meet.