Enter The Corral at your own riskNov 12, 2017 By Scott Akanewich, Sports Editor
On Friday night, Central Wyoming College's mens hoopsters opened the home portion of their schedule as visiting Laramie County Community College came to town.
(By the way, seeing how the Golden Eagles actually call Cheyenne home, I guess "Cheyenne Community College" is located right down the street from the University of Wyoming in Laramie, right?)
Way too early in a column to digress.
Anyway, back to the business at hand -- that is, the Orange-and-Black attack and their battle against the visitors from the southeast corner of the Cowboy State.
What we witnessed was a barnburner, an absolute cracking game of roundball, which had a bit of just about everything, resulting in a high-flying 114-93 victory for the home side, who were decked out in their fresh, new off-white home unis, which are quite sharp.
From fashion to frenzy.
In my two-plus years on the Fremont County sports beat, I've never experienced an atmosphere as electric as what I encountered in the newly-refurbished home of the Rustlers on Friday evening.
When I began covering Central two seasons ago, going to a game at the old gym was like attending a wake, with a funereal vibe which would leave one wondering who died prior to the opening tip.
The grandstand would be half full on a good day and the result on the scoreboard was all-too-predictable on most occasions.
Enter Jack Nelson last season, as the then-rookie head coach inherited a good crop of ballers from predecessor Pat Rafferty and infused his own hunger and youthful enthusiasm, resulting in a 20-win season and the Rustlers renaissance was on.
Captain Jack has continued to build on the momentum gained last season in his second campaign at the wheel of the ship and if what we saw on Friday night is any indication of what this club is capable of, it's going to be a very fun season, with prospects as bright as the new lighting and shiny floor of their home.
Which brings us to our next point.
All powerhouse programs have a moniker for their home gyms, one which will intimidate opposing teams who dare to venture inside.
The Pit at the University of New Mexico immediately comes to mind.
"Hey, guys, we're playing in The Pit this week."
Yikes -- sure seems a lot more menacing than "The Friendly Road Gym We're Going To Visit."
So, how about "The Corral."
After all, the Rusty Rustler himself is an ornery-looking character, the kind of bloke who takes no nonsense while rounding up critters in his day job.
Where does Rusty put said critters?
If Friday is also any indication of the level of intensity and crowd noise we're going to see from now on, Rustler Gym will become a fortress where enemy squads will dread stepping foot into.
Speaking of ornery, back to the game.
After a powerful rim-rocker of a follow dunk by Central's Irshaad Hunte, a fracas ensued after point guard Devon Colley had been unceremoniously shown a seat on the floor by a visiting player -- this after Colley had been inadvertently been hit upside the head after a free-throw attempt by a teammate, a blow a Hollywood stuntman would've been proud of sustaining.
During the ensuing row, I couldn't quite make out what was actually said above the din as pleasantries were exchanged after both benches emptied.
So, we'll speculate.
It all probably began with a few good-natured, time-honored basketball barbs like "You can't guard me" or "Don't bring that weak (blankety-blank) into my house."
Good, clean fun.
But, then things begin to escalate and at some point, someone says something about someone's mama and it's on.
Not sure that's what happened, but we can only guess.
Once proverbial cooler heads prevailed, the Orange-and-Black continued their relentless assault on the Laramie basket resulting in a c-note of points with a couple touchdowns tacked on for good measure.
When hometown hero Brady Fullerton drained the second of his long-range heat-seeking missiles to close the home squad's scoring, I though the roof was either going to cave in or be blown clear off with the cacophony of crowd noise and we'd have outdoor basketball on a crisp November night.
Talk about home-court advantage.
It was difficult not to get caught up in the moment.
We sportswriters have a saying -- "No rooting in the press box."
Well, it's a good thing I wasn't in the press box high above center court, but right down in the trenches in the left-wing corner at the end of the Central bench because I was rooting big time.
Next thing I know, I'm slapping five with Rustlers who are subbing out of the game during garbage time as they make their way down the bench receiving congrats from teammates.
Almost like I was part of the team.
In actuality, I simply had a really good seat, but was more than happy to participate.
Rafferty once told me one of his frustrations as a college coach was getting high school recruits who had difficulty dealing with what he referred to as the transition from the "try hard" league to the "do good" league and "we all don't go out for ice cream after the game" regardless of the result.
Well, on this night, the Rustlers definitely deserved and earned their ice cream.
No high-school competition for a fortnight or so, but no shortage of inspirational performances to choose from.
The former Lady Chief of Wyoming Indian has acquitted herself quite well to the college game with a pair of proper performances, beginning with a 13-point, three-rebound, three-assist effort in her home collegiate debut on Wednesday and a 17-point game against Eastern Wyoming College on Friday.
Brown definitely belongs out there, seemingly having brought her silky-smooth, but rugged game up the road from Ethete and will only continue to get better.
Central lost a lot of offense with the departures from last season's squad, but Hunte has returned with a vengeance for his sophomore season, leading scorer and rebounder for a club averaging 104.8 points per game on the new season.
The 6-foot-7, Toronto, Ontario native is also one of these guys who always has fun on the court along with bringing a considerable amount of game, including 24 points and eight boards against Laramie on Friday.
Charlene Brown, Gillette College,
We love our cross country here and afford proper respect for those who leave it all on the trails in pursuit of the finish line and Brown is one of the best we've seen.
Another former Lady Chief who's moved on to bigger and better things finished 23rd at the National Junior Collegiate Athletics Association national championships in Fort Dodge, Iowa on Saturday, crossing the line of the 5-kilometer course in a time of 18:55.3.
All this two weeks after being crowned Region IX champion at the regional meet in Colorado and still only a freshman.
Very cool, indeed.