There are few better times in sports than the period immediately preceding the end of the season.
The beginning of the season always brings the hope of future success. Every team is still in the hunt and can, for a period, dream big dreams about what the season may hold.
But it’s this period, now, when teams are gearing up for region playoffs and meets, or, in the case of soccer, playing their final regular season games, that offers the most excitement for fans.
Right now, we have whittled down the top teams to just a few remaining contenders. We will see those top teams separate themselves from others that, while very good, may just not be ready for a championship.
It’s when the real season begins.
In soccer, the Gainesville boys and girls, both leading Region 8-AAA, take on Johnson on Tuesday. For the boys, the Knights are just a game behind the first-place Red Elephants in the loss column. The Lady Knights are just two back of the Lady Red Elephants.
When they play, not only will it be a good match because of the talent on the pitch, but also because of the importance it holds for each respective team.
As a fan and as a player, nothing can be as exciting as watching a game that means so much late in the season.
You can feel the intensity in the crowd. Fans ride on every pitch, every serve and every save, knowing each time that it could be the play that swings the momentum in their favor — or against it.
Routine fly balls in baseball become diving catches in the minds of the spectators; a lost possession in soccer might as well be a shot that ricochets off the crossbar.
And this is why we love sports.
We love them because of this drama. We even love them when we lose, so much that we get that empty feeling in our stomach that seems to remain for weeks.
I imagine athletes around the area are gearing up extra for their competition this week, because it is what they have worked so hard for all season long.
This close to their goals, they know that it’s time to give just a little more, leaving nothing in the tank, to reach the lofty goals they set for themselves months in advance.
By the end of this week, we’ll have a much clearer grasp of the state playoff picture. Which teams remain will depend partially on skill level, but even more on the work and effort each individual puts in at the end of the season.
We will see everyone’s absolute best effort.
And, really, what can be more fun to watch than that?
David Mitchell is a sportswriter for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesdmitchell.