When COVID-19 shut down high school basketball for the winter of 2020-21, the Clovis Elks tournament went with it.
One of the longest-running boys’ basketball tournaments in the San Joaquin Valley, the Clovis Elks, held annually at Clovis High School, made its return from December 27-30, 2021. Although COVID-19 had its impact on the 39th edition, which included one team that pulled out, the tournament ran smoothly due to quick schedule-making and adaptability from Clovis High head coach Jonathan Heinz.
Heinz’s team performed well, too, putting together a 3-1 record in the face of adversity.
In their Clovis Elks opener, Clovis High played East Bakersfield without leading scorer Diego Celaya and eked out a 75-71 win in double overtime.
Clovis missed its last five free throws in regulation and allowed East Bakersfield to tie the contest. There was another late Clovis lead in the first overtime, up by four with 45 seconds left, that was squandered after the Blades went layup-steal-layup to knot things up again.
“We were able to learn from it and experience it,” Heinz said. “We’re getting invaluable opportunities and putting guys in tough situations that normally don’t get that opportunity, because if Diego plays, maybe we win by 19 or 20.”
The Cougars got their lesson and won in the process. With Celaya back for the next round against Merced, Clovis took a 48-43 lead in the fourth quarter, needing to come back from down four the previous quarter. Merced didn’t go away easily and tied the game on a 3-pointer with a minute remaining.
After Clovis and Merced each made two free throws, the stage was set for the senior Celaya to shine.
He dribbled until a few seconds were left, drove inside the paint, and flipped a shot over two defenders, banking it in off the back rim. His shot was the game-winner in a 52-50 victory that sent Clovis High to the semifinals.
“It was pretty satisfying,” Celaya said of scoring the game-winner. “Me and the [defender] were chirping at each other… I was very happy to score on him, not going to lie.”
Celaya scored 34 points in the win, but he and the Cougars struggled to get any offense going against Rocklin in the semifinal. Cold shooting doomed Clovis in a 68-52 loss, and the Cougars bounced back the next day with a 59-58 win over Frontier in the third-place game.
Rocklin won the tournament championship, 68-67 in overtime over Centennial of Bakersfield, on a buzzer-beating jumper from Dean Perry. Centennial made the championship game despite losing the semifinal to Lemoore. Lemoore was replacing Atwater, which had to pull out due to COVID-19-related concerns.
Heinz, along with Clovis High staff and administrators, navigated that tricky path to put on a Clovis Elks tournament full of down-to-the-wire contests. Clovis High (7-9) shook off an eight-game losing streak prior to the Elks and finished third; the Cougars face Sanger and Mission Oak before TRAC play begins Jan. 11.