After early playoff exits the last two years, No. 1 seed Golden Eagles beat No. 8 Edison 86-68, removing all doubt and whispers as sophomore Cole Anderson torched the Tigers for 25 points, including 14 in the second quarter, helping Clovis West advance to the Central Section Division I semifinals to face No. 4 Clovis North.
“I felt like the last two years I could have done things different to get us to where we should have been,” Clovis West coach Vance Walberg said. “We should have been in the semis each year so it felt good to get over that hump.”
Walberg, the highly successful coach in his second stint at Clovis West, had reason to worry: two years ago, as the No. 2 seed, they lost 71-68 to No. 10 Bullard and a year later to No. 9 Sunnyside 70-56 as the top seed, both at home.
But not this year, as the Golden Eagles (27-3) shook off a hot Edison (18-12) in the first quarter, riding Anderson’s four 3-pointers over a three and a half minute stretch in the second quarter for a 42-34 halftime lead.
“They were tight,” Walberg said after being up only 23-22 after the first quarter that saw Edison go 4-5 from the 3-point line. “I just felt if we stayed with it we would get our run. We were only up eight at half…I felt like we should have been up 16.”
Clovis West then turned up the heat in a 23-14 third quarter, applying its signature pressure defense and team-balanced basketball when six different Golden Eagles scored. Seniors Dante Chachere (15 points) and Grayson Carper (11 points) each scored six points in the third quarter alone.
Clovis West opened the fourth with an Anderson 3-pointer and an Alex Villi dunk for a 68-52 lead, and then cruised for the win as exhales resonated throughout the gym.
“It was on all our minds,” Villi, a senior, said about the early playoff exits. “During the first quarter I kept thinking it shouldn’t be that close. Then we started getting in our groove and starting playing Clovis West basketball.”
Clovis West came into the game conference champs after going 9-1, its only loss at Clovis North on Jan. 18.
“It feels good, it was a long time without a game,” Villi said about the nine day layoff after defeating Clovis 66-45. “We wanted to play — it feels great to get this win.”
Walberg emptied the bench at the 2:25 mark, and in the finals seconds went down the bench to congratulate every player on a job well done.
“From day one these kids have worked their tails off,” Walberg said. “I felt like they deserved it.”
As for the main difference in his third year back after leaving Clovis West in 2002 for the college and NBA coaching ranks?
“Culture wise we have grown,” Walberg says. “It’s nice when you get guys to understand their roles and get in there for three or four minutes — it’s really pivotal. It’s nice to see them buy in.
“That’s what we had the first time; proud to be a Golden Eagle, to get on that loose ball and get on the ground. The energy is so much better.”
No. 4 Clovis North (21-8) advanced to play Clovis West after blitzing Atascadero 102-58 to open up playoffs then beat TRAC foe No. 5 Clovis East 73-58 at home behind Sammy Al-Saber (18 points), Miller (16), Deandre Walters (13) and Evan Bletz (12).
Clovis West and Clovis North are scheduled to play at Clovis West on Feb. 20. The winner advancing to the finals on Feb. 23 at Selland Area.