Approximately 2,000 people showed up to the Libla Family Sports Complex to watch Three Rivers basketball begin a new chapter in its history.
Fans packed the outside of the building for the ribbon-cutting, and proceeded to fill the seats in anticipation of the first games in the new gym.
“(The crowd) was better than expected,” Lady Raiders coach Jeff Walk said. “Had a good crowd all the way through the game, and even at the start of the game there was lots of folks here. I think they got to watch a good ball game.”
Several season-ticket holders were impressed by the new facility, and the coaches were equally impressed with the turnout.
“The new gym is beautiful. I’ve never seen a floor in a gymnasium like this one is,” said Dewayne Whitt, a Poplar Bluff native and Raiders season-ticket holder who has been attending games since 1989. “The seats are tremendous. It’s a beautiful place.”
Added Allen Brooks, a Three Rivers endowment trust’s Capital Campaign committee member and season-ticket holder, “I think it’s awesome. … A lot of people put in countless hours here, and this is the proof of it. It’s a beautiful facility, and we couldn’t be happier with it.”
Brooks has attended Three Rivers games since 1983, and the turnout from fans like he and Whitt impressed coach Gene Bess, who was thrilled with Saturday’s crowd.
“I thought we had an excellent turnout for the ribbon-cutting, and then we put some pretty good numbers in here Saturday,” Bess said. “There were a lot of people in here, and we were pleased with that.”
On the court, a big night from Hailee Erickson lifted the Lady Raiders to an 80-68 win over State Fair, clinching their third consecutive 20-win season and 13th straight win.
Erickson stuffed the stat sheet with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in the new gym’s inaugural game, one she said she’d never forget.
The Raiders, though, caught a couple of bad breaks as Tristan Jarrett picked up his fourth foul and had to sit for several minutes, allowing State Fair to rattle off an 18-1 run in the span of about five minutes. The Raiders went on to drop the game 79-71.
The attention for both teams now turns to St. Louis Community College.
The Lady Raiders’ game against the Archers will be a battle of unbeatens. St. Louis has yet to lose a game at home this season, boasting a 9-0 record and a 16-5 record overall. Three Rivers comes into Wednesday’s matchup with an 8-0 record in true road games and a 9-0 record away from home, so something has to give.
Much like they saw against State Fair, the Lady Raiders will face full-court pressure. The difference, though, is that St. Louis matches up man-to-man with its press instead of zone.
“It’s going to be a different kind of game than we played Saturday,” Walk said. “We’re going to have to handle that pressure. … It’s a hard place to play in.”
If Three Rivers can limit turnovers and break the press effectively, it could play into their hands as a team that likes to jet down the floor and score points quickly.
“That’s the plan,” Walk said. “We both like to put a lot of points on the board. … We’ll just see whose pressure defense is going to win out and who makes the most shots.”
The Raiders will look to get back in the win column when they face a 10-10 St. Louis squad that climbed back to .500 with two straight wins to start February.
“We’re really trying to double up and get ready for these last few games,” Bess said. “Losing that one Saturday was just horrendous, but we can’t give up. Last time (St. Louis) played us, they beat us, so they’re going to be a load.”
Bess expects St. Louis to deploy a triangle offense, allowing its players to read the defense and make plays based on their alignment, so less of a set style of play and what most teams at the college level use.
The Lady Raiders will tip at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, with the men’s game following immediately after.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic