Igniting the flames of a rivalry

CSUB+junior+guard+Dedrick+Basile+goes+up+for+a+layup+against+New+Mexico+State+on+Jan.+23+in+the+Icardo+Center.%0APhoto+by+AJ+Alvarado%2FThe+Runner

CSUB junior guard Dedrick Basile goes up for a layup against New Mexico State on Jan. 23 in the Icardo Center. Photo by AJ Alvarado/The Runner

Esteban Ramirez

Managing Editor

 

Ten seconds remained.

Nine, eight, seven, six…

The score was all tied up at 54.

The crowd at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas quietly watched in suspense.

CSU Bakersfield’s Dedrick Basile, a 5-foot-11-inch junior guard, was accustomed to going at bigger players, but this time, it was New Mexico State’s Pascal Siakam, a 6-foot-9-inch sophomore forward.

Basile sized up Siakam, crossed over and created some space as he stepped back.

Siakam attempted to recover, stretching his arm to contest Basile’s shot.

Yet Basile rose up, shot it over Siakam about 27 feet from the basket.

The ball went through the air almost in slow motion and swish.

Basile knocked down the game-winning bucket.

CSUB fans erupted in cheers as the Roadrunners beat the Aggies 57-54 for the Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship.

No one-on-one matchup has ever embodied these two schools and their rivalry any better.

Yes, I said rivalry.

This can now be considered a rivalry.

On one side was New Mexico State — led by WAC Player of the Year Siakam. Both were big, experienced and dominated the conference.

Then there was CSUB, the promising but much smaller program — led by a promising and smaller Basile.

Basile not only hits the biggest shot in the program’s history, which caused a national moment for CSUB, but he added some fuel to the fire of this rivalry.

I’m a firm believer in the sports saying that a rivalry isn’t born until both teams beat each other.

For three years, CSUB had been battling to try to beat NMSU in a number of sports and be the top school in the WAC, but the Roadrunners seemed to always come up short.

However, these past two years they have ignited the flames of a rivalry with the Aggies.

This was a big moment in their head-to-head matchups, a major flare-up of a spark that had been smoldering between these two schools.

 

Igniting the Rivalry

For CSUB and New Mexico State, the moment when this rivalry was sparked came almost two years earlier.

On Nov. 21, 2014, the CSUB volleyball team knocked out the defending WAC champs New Mexico State 3-1 in the semifinals of the WAC Tournament, which then catapulted the Roadrunners to win the conference championship that year.

“After that game, for sure it became a rivalry, especially since we had players that had been here for awhile and they experienced every single one of those games they lost,” said CSUB Director of Volleyball Giovana Melo.

Senior middle blocker Sydney Haynes spikes the ball past the New Mexico State defense. Photo by AJ Alvarado/The Runner
Senior middle blocker Sydney Haynes spikes the ball past the New Mexico State defense.
Photo by AJ Alvarado/The Runner

Melo said since she arrived in 2014 fans and supporters always tell her that CSUB has to beat NMSU.

“Even the fans know, everybody knows that they are the team to beat, and even if you have a bad season, it seems like if you beat New Mexico State that’s all that matters,” she said.

Redshirt-junior middle blocker Sydney Haynes said she enjoys the rivalry between CSUB and New Mexico State.

“It’s one of those things that’s kind of like a fun rivalry to have because it has been back and forth and it’s always us in the championship for volleyball anyway,” said Haynes. “It’s that game that we always look forward to and have that extra kind of fire behind us.”

Haynes said earning a win is even better when it is against NMSU.

“When we beat them in the semifinals when we won the WAC, it was almost better than the championship game, just because of that rivalry, but I think that when we play them, it brings another level of our game,” she said.

Last year, the CSUB volleyball team kept adding to the rivalry as it met New Mexico State in the WAC Tournament championship game in a match between the past two champions. However, the Aggies swept the Roadrunners 3-0 to win the conference championship.

And that result left a stinging feeling in Haynes and the team that will carry over to this year.

“Every single person that played and was on the team last year knows that game was a fluke and we didn’t show up at all,” she said. “I know for me personally, and a couple of my teammates were just like, ‘the first time we play them we are going all out because we need to make for what we did last year.’”

This fall, CSUB did fall in the first matchup against NMSU in three close sets (26-24, 25-20 and 25-19) on Sept. 29.

However, only time will tell how the rivalry in this particular sport will carry out the rest of the season.

 

Adding Fuel to the Fire

For any rivalry to continue to grow, situations have to be just right, and this competition moved to another level thanks to a couple of game-winning moments in conference championship games.

The first was Basile’s three-pointer at the WAC Men’s Basketball Tournament championship game.

It shook the core of both CSUB athletics and their rivals.

However, to explain why this was the case, let’s go back to the regular season on Jan. 23, 2016 when the Aggies visited the Roadrunners for a big matchup.

Redshirt-freshman guard Damiyne Durham drives through the lane and shoots a runner over New Mexico State's Tanveer Bhullar. Photo by AJ Alvarado/The Runner
Redshirt-freshman guard Damiyne Durham drives through the lane and shoots a runner over New Mexico State’s Tanveer Bhullar.
Photo by AJ Alvarado/The Runner

CSUB was on a roll and in the midst of its best start since moving to Division I back in 2010-2011, rolling into its big home game against New Mexico State with the Roadrunners holding onto the best record in the conference at 14-5 and 3-0 in the WAC.

The Icardo Center was packed and sold out for the first time since 1993 as they had a chance to beat the Aggies for the first time in men’s basketball.

With every dunk and every made shot, the crowd got more deafening, and CSUB’s confidence continued to grow. Then, the bullies of the WAC, the Aggies, started to rally back.

However, CSUB responded and kept taking back the lead.

It appeared it was CSUB’s night holding onto a 67-65 lead in double overtime with seconds remaining, but then NMSU’s junior guard Ian Baker silenced the crowd with a game-winning three-pointer.

That moment set the table for what was to come almost two months later in the WAC Tournament championship game.

Second-seeded CSUB met top-seeded NMSU in the championship game and would have to go through the six-time WAC champs to go onto the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The game went back-and-forth, but CSUB continued to hold onto the lead and finally put the Aggies away with Basile’s game-winner.

Basile drained the shot and paid them back for the game-winner earlier in the year.

“It still feels unreal,” said Basile after making the shot.

CSUB alumnus John Salazar said beating the Aggies made the win even better.

“It was against that team that has always been knocking us out,” said Salazar.

CSUB men’s basketball coach Rod Barnes said he thinks there is a rivalry between NMSU and CSUB now.

“I feel like we have been trying to get to that point. In a sense, it’s kind of like little brother, big brother,” said Barnes. “They kind of have been the older brother, and we have been trying to get there, get stronger, drink our milk and work out. Finally, when we beat them, I think they looked at us [as a rival].”

Redshirt-senior forward Jaylin Airington added it was a huge moment.

“We got the monkey off our back and what a better way to do it,” Airington said. “It was the last game in conference, and for the championship, it was all on the line and [Basile] came through.”

 

Flaring Up

However, the rivalry hasn’t stopped growing.

The flames of this rivalry continued to rage in the softball season as CSUB got some payback from the year before.

In 2015, the CSUB softball team surprisingly made it to the WAC Tournament championship game and found itself one win away from unprecedented success.

But once again, the Aggies stood in the way of the Roadrunners winning another championship.

CSUB's Amber Mills attempts to throw out a New Mexico State player at last year's Western Athletic Conference Softball Tournament. Photo by Joe Whiteside/Western Athletic Conference
CSUB’s Amber Mills attempts to throw out a New Mexico State player at last year’s Western Athletic Conference Softball Tournament.
Photo by Joe Whiteside/Western Athletic Conference

CSUB lost two straight games in the double-elimination format, and NMSU won another title.

Fast forward to the 2016 WAC Tournament championship game, where third-seeded CSUB faced top-seeded NMSU once again. But this time, it was different. The game was scoreless at the top of the seventh inning when junior catcher Joanna Larios stepped up to the plate.

Like Siakam and Basile, there was CSUB, the young and up-and-coming program, against NMSU, the powerhouse and two-time WAC champs.

But records and history did not matter at that moment.

Larios jacked the third pitch she saw over the right field fence to give the Roadrunners a 1-0 lead.

CSUB was able to put the Aggies away in the bottom half of the inning and won its first WAC Softball Tournament championship.

“It’s crazy how it was the same setup as last year, and I told them I don’t know why, but there is a reason, and we are walking out of here as the WAC champions,” said Buck-Ziegler.

 

Keeping the Fire Alive   

No matter the sport, it seems these two schools have to go through each other in every postseason to win the conference.

Out of the nine team sports, CSUB and NMSU are in the same conference in six of them.

In men’s basketball, CSUB is 1-11, but it won the last game. Baseball is 7-6-1 and has gone 3-3-1 in the past two seasons. Women’s basketball is currently 3-4 all-time.

The CSUB women's soccer team celebrates after redshirt-freshman forward Aminah Settles scores a goal to put the Roadrunners up 2-0 in the second half against the Aggies at last year's Western Athletic Conference Tournament. Photo by Karina Diaz/The Runner
The CSUB women’s soccer team celebrates after redshirt-freshman forward Aminah Settles scores a goal to put the Roadrunners up 2-0 in the second half against the Aggies at last year’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
Photo by Karina Diaz/The Runner

Women’s soccer is 4-3 and won the last game in the first round of the playoffs. Volleyball is 2-9 and has lost the last four games. Softball is 5-12 all-time and won the last two, which includes the championship win.

Assistant Media Relations Director for New Mexico State John Vu stated in an email that he doesn’t think it’s a rivalry yet.

“I’m not sure you can really call it a rivalry. CSUB had a good run at the conference tournament championships this season,” Vu wrote.

NMSU’s athletic director, Mario Moccia, declined to be interviewed for this story.

However, CSUB’s Athletic Director Kenneth Siegfried disagrees with Vu.

“I do think the rivalry is heating up, but I feel like our trajectory of success in our department as a whole is at a higher level than most other schools,” Siegfried said.

Siegfried said some of the best rivalries are the ones people won’t admit are rivalries.

“I do get texts from people that work over there that basically say, ‘I can’t believe you guys got us again,’ and that was right after softball, which was really fun,” he said.

It is definitely a rivalry when you take into consideration what happened at the men’s basketball, softball and volleyball tournaments.

Additionally, women’s soccer earned its first postseason victory at the expense of the Aggies in the 2015 season.

There’s definitely a rivalry between these two teams.

Is it NMSU’s top rivalry? Of course not.

That belongs to in-state rival University of New Mexico.

But this is still a rivalry from the hard-fought battles and nail-biting endings in the past two years.

They have traded championships and postseason victories.

“I think it says that we are not just getting there, but we are starting to beat them,” said Melo. “I think that’s the goal of every coach in every sport every year. To not just get there, but be able to get there and beat them. I think we are starting to get to that point, and it is very exciting to see.”

Though Siegfried said it is a rivalry, he thinks they still have ways to go to be the class of the conference.

“For years, the excitement level when we go up against New Mexico State is just higher because, let’s just be candid, they are at the top overall of our conference,” Siegfried said. “So, when we play them, our job is to make sure that we are now above them.”

CSUB’s next game versus NMSU is in women’s soccer at 1 p.m. Oct. 23 on the CSUB Main Soccer Field.