Round 1 goes to Clovis West.
In a much-hyped game between state No. 5 Clovis North and No. 6 Clovis West, and in front of a packed and frenzied crowd at the Stables Center, the defending CIF Open Division state champion Golden Eagles beat the Broncos 63-54, running their league winning streak to 54 games in a see-saw game that was decided on junior Champney Pulliam’s driving layup that broke a 54-54 tie with 1:10 left in the game.
Never before have two public schools in the Central Section been ranked so high by Cal-Hi Sports at the same time, let alone from the same league.
For a game with so much build up, it certainly lived up to its billing.
“It was the top two teams in the Valley slugging it out in the first round of league, it was everything we expected it to be,” Clovis West coach Craig Campbell said. “They play hard, we play hard, they have talent, we have talent. I told everybody it was going to be a single digit game one way or another.”
From the opening tip, the rivals went toe-to-toe through the first three quarters and battled to a 25-25 halftime score. In fact, no lead was greater than three the entire game until freshman guard Nikki Tom’s two free throws with 47 seconds left extended the lead to 58-54.
Clovis North, riding the hot hand of Jordyn Brown’s three 3-pointers and 11 points in the first half, took a 54-53 advantage with 2:19 left on sophomore Savannah Tucker’s 8-foot jumper in the key.
Those would be the final points the Broncos (19-3) would score.
Maddie Campbell of Clovis West was fouled on a drive and made one free throw, and after a defensive stop by the Eagles (21-3), Pulliam made the driving right hand layup from the right side of the wing.
“Honestly, during that play, I wasn’t even thinking about trying to get a lead,” Pulliam said. “I caught the ball and saw an open lane and I knew I needed to step up and take more responsibility for our team to be successful.
“After I scored, I told the team we needed to get a stop because the shot means nothing without defense.”
Junior Aari’yanna Sanders made her presence known underneath with nifty footwork all night, showing skill with either hand in scoring 23 points to go along with 10 rebounds.
“She’s fully capable of doing that on any given night,” Campbell said of Sanders, the younger sister of Bre’yanna, a member of last year’s team who is currently at Arizona State. “She’s stepped into a whole new role this year. When Aari believes in herself, she’s very capable.”
The coach’s daughter, Maddie, the sharp shooting 5-foot-11 guard who holds 21 Division I college offers, would put the game out of reach with two free throws with 28 seconds left and finish with 17 points.
Clovis North was certainly hurt by the foul trouble of Tucker as the star sophomore guard and leading scorer picked up her fourth foul with 3:12 left in the fourth quarter and finished with five points, well below her season average of 22.
Sophomore Rowan Hein scored 17 for Clovis North and Brown finished with 18.
Amazingly, a year after Clovis West finished 34-2 with the CIF Open Division state title and a No. 1 national ranking, the Golden Eagles have kept up the pace with a young, but talented team.
“This was the first time most of these kids have played in this type of environment,” Coach Campbell said. “It’s a growing game and to come out at this point 4-0 in league was our goal. They [Clovis North] are a talented team, we knew it would be a war.”