For the first time in their young lives, the basketball players from Oceanside and Belfast stepped into a gymnasium for an "official" high school contest with no fans present.

The bleachers were pushed back and tucked away, chairs served as a bench, arranged socially distanced from baseline to baseline, and masks covered everyone's face.

Despite the "new look" of this basketball season, the game did not take on a "new look" once the ball hit the court and the clock started to tick.

The Lions and Mariners battled for 32 minutes in their season opener on Tuesday night, Jan. 12, with lead changes, hustle and sweat as bodies slammed to the floor, and in the end, Oceanside rallied to hold off the visitors 67-62.

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"That's a very, very good team over there [in Belfast]," said Oceanside coach Larry Reed. "If this was a regular season a lot of people thought they may be top two or three in Class B North. They have some really talented players, they work hard, so I was very impressed with how our kids performed today."

"It was very streaky for us," said Lion coach Marty Messer. "We got off to a bad start, came back and took a nice little lead, we were feeling comfortable, things [were] working, and I know we aren't in the best shape right now, which, I think, influenced our defense in the second half.

"I'm proud how we played hard the whole game though, that was very good. Those guys out there gave everything, and Oceanside did a great job of coming back and not giving up."

The teams shook off the rust in the first four minutes of the game, as the Mariners held a 14-10 advantage, while the Lions led 34-30 at halftime and 50-48 at the end of the third stanza.

Bodhi Ames keyed the hosts with 18 points, while Everett Allyn tallied 14 points (all in the second half); Cam Kingsbury, 11; Elliot Lucier, eight; Alex Bartlett, seven (all in the second quarter); Gavyn Tower, six; and Landdon Willis, three. Kingsbury, Lucier and Willis connected on 3-pointers.

Jason Bartlett paced the Lions, and all scorers, with 24 points, as Chris Kelley tallied 16, LaDerrick Roberts, nine; Tanner Veilleux, seven; Drew Abalon, four; and Tommy Walker, two. Bartlett netted two treys, while Veilleux and Kelley hit one.

Oceanside finished 10-of-14 (71 percent) from the foul line, while Belfast was 15-of-17 (88 percent) from the charity stripe.

The first half of the ball game saw both teams struggle shooting from the floor, as the "touch" had yet to be found, after only a week of team practice.

Despite the lack of points, the energy level was through the roof, as the Mariners and Lions dove for loose balls, and accumulated bruises in the process, as the squads "in-your-face" defenses forced turnovers.

Oceanside's largest lead in the first half was seven points, 20-13, after Alex Bartlett completed a three-point play, when he drove the lane, got the layup to go off the glass, and was fouled.

Belfast's offense got moving from there, as the Lions got buckets from Veilleux, Jason Bartlett, Kelley and Abalon to go on a 10-2 run, including six straight points in a 30-second span to tie the game 25-25.

Belfast closed the half strongly to hold the advantage, and picked up where it left off to open the second half.

After more than a minute passed without a basket — a few turnovers along the way were the cause — Jason Bartlett hit a pull-up jumper a foot inside the three-point line to push the Lion advantage to 36-30.

The next Belfast possession Kelley hit a deep three, followed by another Jason Bartlett bucket, to complete a 7-0 run, as the advantage swelled to 41-30, the visitors largest of the contest.

The Mariners stopped the run on their next possession, when Kingsbury fired a three-quarter-court-length pass to Tower — over the outstretched hand of Roberts — who laid the ball in.

Ames made two free throws, Kingsbury threw a dime in stride to Allyn for an easy layup, followed by an Allyn steal, pass to Carter Galley — while Allyn started to fall out of bounds — and Galley found Lucier for the layup, which cut the Lion lead to 41-38.

A Jason Bartlett 15-foot bucket stopped the Mariner run with 3:41 to play in the third, but Allyn found Ames down low to counter, before a Belfast timeout.

Out of the timeout, Kingsbury stole the ball from Jason Bartlett in front of the Belfast bench, found Allyn in stride again, who laid it in with the foul, to cut Belfast's lead to 43-42.

"Sometimes during the early parts of the season I'll give [the team] a little bit more latitude and try to play through [adversity], but I also think once we were in a position where we brought pressure, [Belfast] didn't react very well to our pressure," said Reed. "Our half-court sets were not all that good at that time, so we wanted to get some easy things going to the basket, which created some nice opportunities for us and we took advantage of it."

"I think we fouled, and got into foul trouble," said Messer of Oceanside's comeback. "I went to the reserve a little, and lost a little momentum. We had three or four possessions where we turned the ball over by ourselves, and allowed [Oceanside] to get back into [the game]. Oceanside played hard the whole game and did what they had to do to pull out [the win]."

The teams traded baskets through the rest of the third quarter, but Ames gave the Mariners the lead as he went off glass down low in a double-team with 6:30 to play.

The next Oceanside possession Lucier missed a trey, but Nathan Coombs grabbed the offensive board and found Ames in the post for the bucket, followed by an Allyn steal and layup to give the Mariners a 56-50 edge.

"We started not getting to balls, or getting into position, but a big thing is we didn't take a lot of good shots in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter," said Messer. "We didn't run the offense as well as we needed too, and didn't get the ball to the rim."

The Lions and Mariners stayed even the rest of the way, as the Mariners pulled out the victory in a time when the opponents thought they may not even had the chance to play.

"Every day we talked about how glad we are to be out here, even if its practice," said Messer. "We know it could be shut down at any minute, and we appreciate being out here. One thing we've been saying is 'play like it's your last game,' because it actually could be your last game of the year. The guys have been really positive, but didn't like wearing the masks at first, but have gotten used to it, and appreciating the opportunity to come out and play now."

"It's great [to be back]," said Reed. "There aren't fans in the stands, but I don't even notice it when I'm coaching, because I'm focused on what we are doing here. It was a lot of fun to have some good live competition, [be able to] coach again, be in the flow of the game, and I know the kids loved it."

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