SKOWHEGAN — In a nearly-empty gymnasium, you hear everything.

The squeak of sneakers on hardwood is squeakier. The gentle thump of the basketball off the court echoes a little more.

Axl Rose welcoming you to the jungle in the pregame warmup music mix sounds like the Guns ‘n’ Roses frontman is across the gym, standing where those bleachers are pushed against the wall.

It’s game night at Skowhegan Area High School. The RiverHawks are hosting rival Mt. Blue.

The state says in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic that no more than 50 people are allowed at an indoor event. There are never more than 43 people in the Skowhegan gym during the game.

The team benches aren’t benches. They’re folding chairs, three rows deep to give each player and assistant coach plenty of personal space. The head coaches, Skowhegan’s Tom Nadeau and Mt. Blue’s Troy Norton, prowl the sidelines. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed.

It’s understandable why fans aren’t allowed at games anywhere this season, but it’s unfortunate. A game like Friday’s, won by Skowhegan 67-64, is the kind of game that a crowd would enhance by 1,000.

A crowd would have shaken the gym when Skowhegan’s Adam Savage threw down a one-handed dunk off a steal. That’s a moment made for a live audience.

Skowhegan builds a 12-point lead in the third quarter. Mt. Blue responds with a run that would silence Skowhegan’s home crowd, if only. The Cougars score 13 points in 90 seconds late in the third to take the lead.

Mt. Blue leads by as many as eight points in the fourth, before the RiverHawks rally again. Skowhegan takes the lead, 64-63, on a Collin LePage layup with a minute and a half to go. Jacob Farnham ties the game for the Cougars with a free throw. LePage sinks a pair of free throws for a two point Skowhegan lead, and after teammate Jimmy Reed misses a pair of foul shots, LePage grabs the board and makes one more foul shot for a three point Skowhegan lead.

Farnham’s three try to tie the game at the buzzer is short. Skowhegan wins. Across the gym, Mike Violette’s call on the livestream play-by-play is heard in every corner, since there’s no cheers to drown it out.

“And that’s the ballgame,” Violette says.

Fans at home with no WiFi or slow WiFi are missing out.

The Mt. Blue and Skowhegan boys basketball teams begin a game Friday night in Skowhegan. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

There’s a pile of popcorn crumbs on the bleacher statues one row below me. There’s no fans here to spill popcorn. How long has it sat there?

This is what the high school basketball season will be like in Maine. There’s no sense in saying get used to it. This is temporary. Teams play on, except in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Oxford and York counties, which are currently not allowed to play.

At halftime, Skowhegan AD Jon Christopher played music for the near empty gym. One song was apt, and good advice for everybody. It was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

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