Clovis West returned to basketball glory, thanks largely to a legendary play and a scoring performance for the ages.
In front of a frenzied crowd at Selland Arena, Dante Chachere’s game-tying mad-dash layup with seconds remaining in overtime and Alex Villi’s 42 points helped lead the Golden Eagles to a thrilling double overtime 89-81 victory over Bullard, capturing the school’s first D-I Central Section title since 2006.
“To see the smile on the kids faces and what they achieved from where they’ve been, it’s pretty amazing,” Clovis West coach Vance Walberg said. “I am super happy for the kids.”
However it certainly wasn’t easy.
Down 66-64 with 3.8 seconds remaining in the first overtime Walberg knew exactly what to do; put his best athlete in the best position to win.
And Chachere delivered in the most memorable way.
Using a Villi screen, the 6-foot-4 senior took an inbounds pass from Ryas Vang 80 yards away from the basket and glided down the court in a mere four dribbles, laying the ball in at the buzzer in front of the crazed Clovis West student section.
Chachere, looking every bit like a long jumper, took off behind the three point line, planted his left foot in front of the free throw line and floated towards the rim like a character in Space Jam.
“He did a heck of a job and executed it to perfection,” Walberg said. “And thank God he made it.”
It’s a play the top-seeded Golden Eagles work on in practice.
“I used all my speed and the lanes opened up,” said Chachere, the all-league football quarterback who’s attending Portland State on scholarship. “I just went all the way down and put it in.”
The play was set up after Bullard (26-5) had a chance to go up three points, but Jalen White missed the second of his two free throws after hitting the first and Grayson Carper gobbled up the rebound before Walberg called a timeout.
Clovis West rode its overtime momentum into the second overtime and started the quarter with seven straight points on a Carper (10 points) steal and layup, a 3-pointer from Villi and a 5-footer in the lane from sophomore Cole Anderson (20 points).
With 17.5 seconds remaining and a 88-79 lead, Walberg let out a fist pump in front of the Golden Eagles bench.
“We got it,” Walberg thought. “It’s been a long time coming for the kids and the school so it’s great to get it.”
Walberg, in his third year back at Clovis West, last won a Valley title in 2002 before leaving to coach in the college and NBA ranks.
The other star performance was by Villi, called the “bucket machine” by Chachere, as the senior hit 15-29 shots from the floor, including 5-8 from three and 7-8 from the line for his 42 points, none more important than his drive that resulted in a foul and layup with 12 seconds remaining in regulation to make the score 68-67.
After sinking the game-tying free throw, Bullard’s Milton Burnett (25 points) missed a desperation 27-footer to send the game to the first overtime.
“Coach was comfortable enough to put the ball in my hands and I guess I was feeling it,” Villi said. “We work hard and we worked too hard to lose this game. I feel like we work harder than anyone around here and it paid off.”
Clovis West stood tall against a Bullard front line that featured 6-foot-8 junior Justin Parks (12 points, 24 rebounds) and 6-foot-7 senior Teiquan Rush (25 points on 11-14 shooting).
But the night belonged to Clovis West and with it the first Clovis Unified school to win a Valley title since Clovis East in 2010, then under coach Tim Amundsen, now Bullard’s head coach.
“We are a family and I think that’s why we won,” Villi said. “Everyone loves each other and wants to see everyone do well. I think that’s why we are Valley champions.”
The Golden Eagles were seeded No. 3 in the CIF NorCal Division I playoffs and will face No. 13 Menlo-Atherton at home on Tuesday, Feb. 26.