The game had been earmarked for a while, two of the top teams in the section; and the clash at Clovis East certainly did not disappoint.
In front of a standing room only crowd of over 1,800, including a vivacious Timberwolves student section, Clovis West stood tall in a punch, counterpunch game decided in the final minutes, a tough 69-65 Golden Eagles victory behind standout performances from Cole Anderson and Alex Villi, who combined for 54 points.
“They [Clovis East] go on a great run early, we fight back, they go on another run, we fight back, we go on a run, they fight back,” Clovis West coach Vance Walberg said after the playoff-caliber game, a contest they were once down 11 in the first quarter. “Adrian [Clovis East head coach Wiggins] is a heck of a coach — they have some really good players and really good shooters.”
Namely, smooth operators Shawno Roberts and Jermal Pittman, six-foot slashers who Clovis West held to 14 and two points respectively, 11 below their combined season average.
It was Clovis East (16-4, 3-1) who sprinted out of the gates like gangbusters, leading 24-16 after one quarter, and holding a slim 37-36 lead at half with a balanced offensive attack.
But Clovis West (20-2, 3-0) would rally in the third, taking a 50-49 lead after the third quarter behind Anderson’s 10 points and two 3s.
Then the exciting fourth quarter, where every basket was cheered or jeered by the raucous, yet civil crowd.
On Clovis East’s first possession of the fourth, point guard Will Wiggins drove in for a layup and a 51-50 lead, but then it was Villi-time, as the 6-foot-4 senior either gave the Golden Eagles the lead or tied the game four times in the quarter, when he scored 14 points of his 27 points, including two 3s.
His layup with 1:13 left extended Clovis West’s lead to 66-63 after a Carlos Fuentes basket cut the lead to one.
“Having a coach like Coach Walberg be comfortable with the ball in my hands is the reason I have so much confidence,” Villi said, who received little playing time last year as a junior. “He’s coached lots of great players and for him to have the confidence to get me the ball is a true honor.”
Anderson, a smooth, sharpshooting sophomore, scored 26 in the game including five 3s.
His two free throws with 8.2 seconds gave Clovis West a 69-65 lead, virtually sealing the win.
“It’s almost like we’re brothers and we know what each other’s thinking on court—it’s a great feeling,” Villi said of Anderson, a Cal-Hi Sports Freshman All-State player last year. “To be able to find him and watch him kill it from three is just fun to watch.”
Clovis East senior Enrique Quinones scored 11 points, including seven in the team’s 21-point first quarter. Wiggins, Fuentes and Tyler Pacheco all chipped in eight.
Walberg, who returned to coach Clovis West in 2016 after leading the Golden Eagles from 1989-2002 to nine league titles and six CIF Central Section championships, praised the efforts of not only Anderson and Villi, but seniors Grayson Carper (“he’s going to get better and better”) and Dante Chachere (“he’s so pivotal for us”).
Now past the halfway point and heading into the stretch run, Clovis West understands the target on its back.
“We are everybody’s biggest game of the year,” Walberg says. “I’ve been here before and we’ve been here before. We just have to accept it and be ready.”
But Coach, do you like it that way?
“I enjoy it,” he said. “My insides probably don’t like it that much but it’s nice to get the win.