Around the TRAC: Celebrating the extraordinary, championship-filled week in the Tri-River Athletic Conference

 

If this was 1918 I would be standing on the corner of Pollasky and Fifth Avenue shouting, “Extra, extra, read all about it,” handing out papers for free, wanting to share the good news of sports.

But since I’m not (but it would be fun to put on some knickers, some suspenders and a newsies hat) let’s go over a quick recap of the remarkable two-week stretch that was for our Clovis area high school teams: Clovis East girls and Buchanan boys soccer teams both win D-1 Central section championships, Clovis West girls basketball wins their fourth straight D-1 title, and the Buchanan wrestling team wins a state championship, dethroning five-time champion Clovis high in the process.

Whaaaaaat? I know, pretty incredible right?

I would repeat myself if I had the space in this section, but you can read all about those amazing accomplishments in this issue of the Clovis Roundup. Go ahead, I encourage you to read all about it.

The only semi-downer was the Clovis North boys basketball team losing to Central in the boys D-1 finals, but I digress, what an amazing season they had in winning a share of the TRAC title and earning the No. 1 playoff seed.

So, my fine upstanding readers, here’s a small breakdown of some of the happenings Around the TRAC as I promise our spring sports will be in full bloom next issue.

 

Clovis North’s path to Selland

So, just how did the Clovis North boys basketball team reach the D-1 finals at Selland Arena? It wasn’t easy, let me tell you, as a loaded and athletic Centennial of Bakersfield team came to the Stables Center smelling upset.

The Broncos (20-8) were the No. 1 seed, the Golden Hawks (18-13) No. 4, and throttled Clovis West 73-52 at home in the second round of playoffs.

But, using their signature pressure defense and attacking-the-rim offense the Broncos matched the physically impressive Golden Hawks (led by Malcom Johnson, listed at 6’5”, 214 pounds) possession by possession, taking a 31-29 halftime lead.

Enter senior point guard Jahvon Johnson, who Centennial coach Hernan Santiago admitted pregame they needed to keep out of the paint. Well, they did for the first half, holding him scoreless and bottling him up.

And just like Bruce Banner transforming into the Hulk, Johnson morphed into a monster, scoring all of his 16 points in the second half, including the last eight of the game in the 69-63 win.

“I think I was just more angry,” said Johnson. “The first half I didn’t play real well and I was looking to get to the basket more and be more aggressive.”

It worked as Johnson fearlessly attacked the rim with a variety of jump stops and pivots and a flick of the wrist.

Bronco head coach Tony Amundsen didn’t specifically encourage Johnson in his halftime speech. In fact, he spoke more team basketball, but pointed out how his strong play was pertinent to the victory.

“They planned on stopping him and did a great job but he was persistent and kept grinding it out,” said Amundsen, in his third year as the Bronco’s coach. “He got a few baskets to go down and he kept it rolling. That was crucial.”

Also crucial was the way the entire team came out after half, going on a 14-0 run during the third quarter behind some nifty play from junior Ben Avera (14 points) and Jonah Brown (11 points) and the inside presence of Elijah Straughter (14 points). Entering the fourth quarter it was 51-40 but Centennial wouldn’t go away quietly, trimming the lead to 62-60 until a Johnson lay-up and foul stretched the lead to 65-60 with 1:16 left. They would never look back.

“They didn’t give up and they played hard,” said Amundsen, commending the play of Centennial. “They are a great team and I knew this game was going to have runs and we talked about that. This was exactly the game I thought it would be. They have a lot of talent and I knew it would be a grind.”

 

Clovis East boys basketball falls in semis to Central

Photo courtesy of Nick Baker  Clovis East's Jaime Atondo flips one up against Central in his team's 66-55 loss to the Grizzlies in the D-1 semi-finals.
Photo courtesy of Nick Baker
Clovis East’s Jaime Atondo flips one up against Central in his team’s 66-55 loss to the Grizzlies in the D-1 semi-finals.

Digging themselves a 15-0 deficit to begin the game, Clovis East couldn’t pull out of the hole they dug as they were downed by Central 66-54 in the D-1 semi-final game, launching the Grizzlies into the championship game against Clovis North.

Coach Adrian Wiggins, whose team split their two match-ups with Central during TRAC play, was not happy about his team’s start to the game.

“I was really surprised by their [Central’s] start to the game,” said Wiggins. “The credit goes to Central for starting well. We basically didn’t block out well and seemed timid to start the game.”

After clawing back to make it a 10-point game at 31-21 at halftime, the Timberwolves (20-10 and No. 3 seed) couldn’t muster up the complete comeback. After the first three minutes of the game, the game was basically even.

“It really was just a matter of focus and execution,” continued Wiggins, in his third year coaching at Clovis East. “Central’s a good team and you have to play better than good to beat them. I just don’t think we did that.”

Central’s 6’7” Chris Seeley scored 23 points and Jaylon Johnson chipped in with 16. Brandon Recek scored 15 for Clovis East.

 

Clovis wins Coca Cola Classic baseball tournament

If the preseason is any indication of the quality of baseball that we’re going to see in the TRAC, then we are in for quite a ride.

Photo by David Menendian Clovis High pitcher Zac Whittaker was named the Most Valuable Pitcher in the 2016 Coca Cola Classic as the senior went 3-0 including a 2-1 victory in the championship game against Clovis North.
Photo by David Menendian
Clovis High pitcher Zac Whittaker was named the Most Valuable Pitcher in the 2016 Coca Cola Classic as the senior went 3-0 including a 2-1 victory in the championship game against Clovis North.

This was evident in the championship game of the Coca Cola Classic, where two undefeated teams, Clovis and Clovis North, both sitting at 6-0 met at Lloyd Merriman Field on March 4. And true to form, Clovis scratched out a run in the top of the 7th inning, with closer Chet Allison finishing off Zac Whittaker’s strong six innings (to go along with nine strikeouts) for the 2-1 win.

And Clovis head coach James Patrick would know good baseball when he sees it. Patrick is in his 31st year in high school baseball and 29th at Clovis High. So, yeah, he’s witnessed it all. He’s also got a pretty darn good pitcher in senior Whittaker.

“It was good a good baseball game,” said Patrick, who’s son, Chris, is Clovis North’s head coach. “These games are 2-1, 3-2 so you have to be able to function in a close game.

Whittaker and [Michael] Williams (Clovis North starter who threw five innings of one-run ball) were both dueling and that’s what TRAC baseball is all about. He’s got that deceptive motion and has a lot of good things going for him.”

That may be an understatement. Whittaker, a southpaw, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher by going 3-0 in 16 innings in the tournament and allowing five runs.

Clovis North scored first in the bottom of the third by reaching on a singles; Matt Frazier promptly stole second and third and scored on a single. But the Cougars tied it up in the bottom of the fourth with an RBI ground out by Johhny Wiltfang.

Photo by Ron Sundquist Clovis North’s Matt Frazier steals two bases and finally scores a single run at the bottom of the third inning in the Coca Cola Classic Tournament championship game against Clovis High.
Photo by Ron Sundquist
Clovis North’s Matt Frazier steals two bases and finally scores a single run at the bottom of the third inning in the Coca Cola Classic Tournament championship game against Clovis High.

But Clovis took the lead for good in the 7th when Tyson Frazier reached on an error and advanced to third, scoring on a wild pitch. Allison would close it off in the bottom of the inning by striking out the last two Bronco hitters.

Clovis and Clovis North advanced to the championship game despite defending D-1 Central Section champion Buchanan also going 4-0 in the tournament. Buchanan gave up more runs than the other two, thus not making the championship game.

And for Whittaker, who had his arm all iced up after game in his normal routine, it’s all about confidence on the mound.

“When I’m on the mound I have to believe I’m the best guy on the field,” said Whittaker. “That breeds confidence in myself.”

TRAC baseball officially begins on March 17. And probably just like you – I can’t wait.