By Matthew Digiacomo
November 24, 2012 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE —
A quick look inside the Meadville Area Senior High School gymnasium, better known as the House of Thrills, and you may have thought it was 1986-87 all over again.
It wasn’t, but the fan support that the Bulldogs Alumni basketball games received was better than anyone expected.
“I was extremely happy with the turnout,” said event organizer Jerry Ambooken. “I really didn’t know what to expect. But to see this many people come out to support us and the boosters. ... It just goes to show what a great community Meadville is.”
Those in attendance did not leave disappointed.
Sure, there was some rust to be knocked off by all the players that competed. But in the end, everyone was treated to a pair of spirited and highly competitive games.
The first act pitted Team 2, which featured five of the top six players on that 1986-87 state runner-up team, against Team 3. The game started slowly, but about five minutes in 1962 graduate George Schroeder, the oldest competitor to play in the event, hit a mid-range jumper from the left wing to put Team 2 up 2-0. From there, things started to roll.
Both teams exchanged baskets back and fourth. Mike Pero hit a deuce and a triple. Donald Burnett hit a pair of long jumpers and an even longer 3-pointer. And Joey Bass made his presence felt for Team 2 with a 3-pointer and layup.
Team 3 responded with Ambooken adding a layup and a 3-pointer. Brook Bright chimed in with a surprising 3 of his own, a two-pointer and eight rebounds in the first half. At the buzzer, Team 2 held a slight 21-15 lead.
The second half was played at a similar back-and-forth pace. The difference in the final score was a pair of Pero 3-pointers as Team 2 held on for the 42-36 win.
Pero led all scorers with 11 points. Donald Burnett added nine points, while Paul Burnett grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
For Team 3, Ambooken finished with eight points, Ryan Waid scored six and John Walsh, Ryan Swick and Bright tallied five each. Bright also grabbed a game-high 11 boards.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Paul Burnett. “To have the chance to come out here and meet the new (Bulldogs) and support the boosters organization, it was an honor. And to have so many people who remember us come and watch, it really was an honor to play for them again.”
The second act, which pitted Team 1 against Team 4, started much quicker.
Team 1 broke the ice right off the opening tip as Square Miller dropped in a layup. Miller, a 1964 graduate, was the second oldest player to lace up on the night. It also meant that the two oldest alumni scored the first basket in each game.
“That was kind of cool,” said Ambooken. “Everything turned out so much better than I could have ever hoped for.”
The story of the game, however, was Matt Dracup.
Hitting from just about everywhere inside the 3-point arc, Dracup helped Team 1 stop every run Team 4 made. He led all scorers at the break with six points and closed with an event-high 17 to lead his squad to a 46-41 win.
“Wow, that is awesome,” said Dracup when told of his point total. “It is this gym, you know. When you step on this court, it makes you work harder, it makes you play harder.”
James Ness and Josh Gregor each scored seven for Team 1.
David Johnson led Team 4 with nine points. Kyle Stevenson, Adam Barba and T.J. Philips each added eight markers. Barba also electrified the crowd with the only successful dunk of the night.
When the buzzer sounded, players from both sides greeted each other and the crowd. A perfect close to a great night of basketball.
“Hopefully this is something that will get the younger kids to keep playing,” sad Ambooken. “I looked up to a lot of the players here, and now it is odd to be mentioned in the same breath. I hope it will give the younger generation the drive to do the same thing.”