When Hopewell and North Mecklenburg meet in any sport, whether it's on the field, the court or on the diamond, the game itself is a major event featuring two archrivals.
Monday night will be no different, as the Titans and Vikings square off for the first time this season on the baseball field, where more than bragging rights will be at stake.
Hopewell has won three straight conference titles, including last year's inaugural I-Meck crown. The Titans have also defeated the Vikings four straight times.
North Meck, which last won at least a share of a conference title in 2008, is hungry to get back to the top and know they will have to beat Hopewell for the first time since 2008 to have a chance.
The Vikings (6-2, 5-1 as of March 24) have looked rejuvenated so far, jumping out to a strong start under first-year coach Trevin Smith.
"We have big goals for this season," said Smith, who admitted he wanted his team to aim for a state title. "But we won't get there all in one game. First, we want to win a conference title."
Hopewell coach Chet Greeson and company also understand the importance of this game and rivalry, even though it is still just the midpoint of the season for the Titans (5-4, 4-1 as of March 24). The winner of this game will likely take over first-place in the I-Meck going into the second half of the season.
Smith, North's first-year manager, doesn't like to lose. He has gotten that point across to his team already with his team-first, no-nonsense approach.
Smith has taken a mixture of experience and youthful talent and blended it differently this season.
Senior Anthony Dimino, the team's most consistent player, moved from shortstop to catcher. Behind the plate, Dimino has been able to show more leadership for his team on a play-by-play basis.
Senior pitcher Paul Leonard has been just as good on the mound, winning four games already on the mound for the Vikings.
Role players like James Petitgout, Dylan Maddox as well as brothers Robert and Daniel Beck have also stepped up their games. Viking freshman third baseman Ryder Ryan has also shown glimpses of big-time potential.
The Vikings seem to have the hunger, intensity and chemistry to make things happen this year. But beating Hopewell, especially on the road, is never easy. Expect this game to be tight down to the finish.
Greeson and the Titans expect big things from each and every year. But Hopewell has gotten off to a slower start against a challenging non-conference slate.
But the Titans have begun to right the ship in I-Meck play as they did last year with another talented team led by senior shortstop Michael Russell, who has three home runs and 16 RBI (through March 24).
Russell, who has committed to North Carolina, has a lot of help around him with top pitcher Hunter Conley (Lenoir-Rhyne) as well as sluggers John Auten, Joe Bertone (UNC Wilmington) and Cody Strickland.
While the Titans have been able to score this year, averaging eight runs per game, they have had trouble stopping opposing offense.
Hopewell and North Meck could be a high-scoring affair, but the game will likely be determined by whose pitching staff is better.