Clovis West roars back, wins Open Division basketball title game for the ages

Clovis West won its first ever Central Section Open Division boys’ basketball championship over St. Joseph on Saturday, February 26, 2022. (Gabe Camarillo/Clovis Roundup)

Vance Walberg called the Golden Eagles lucky before.

Now, they are magical.

Digging out of a 47-27 deficit with 5:36 left in the third quarter, No. 1 seed Clovis West stormed back and won the Central Section Open Division boys’ basketball championship over No. 2 St. Joseph of Santa Maria, 72-63, in overtime Saturday night. The win doubled as Walberg’s 500th win as Clovis West basketball head coach.

“For whatever reason, we always have that Clovis West magic,” Walberg said. “We always seem somewhere to find a run. I thought we’d make a run, but when you’re down 20 in the third, you wonder, can we make a big enough run to get back in it?

“Somehow, they found a way.”

St. Joseph dominated the first two and a half quarters against Clovis West. But the Golden Eagles, who erased 17 and 22-point deficits in the third quarter earlier this season, pulled off another miracle in their biggest game of the year.

Clovis West ended one of the most memorable Central Section basketball championship games ever on a 45-16 run.

Perhaps it will be known in Clovis West boys’ basketball lore simply as “The Run.”

“It’s something instilled within us where we never give up,” said sophomore guard Jackson Young. “It’s a Clovis West tradition. Since we’re such a family, we bonded together, got it together, and made it happen.”

Young led Clovis West in scoring with 23 points, 21 of them from beyond the arc. Young drilled seven 3-pointers on the night.

But the big step-up for Clovis West came from its leading scorer and its dominant big man.

Issac Martinez struggled mightily for the first three quarters of the game. Yet in the fourth quarter, the junior shooting guard never lost confidence and kept firing. He hit several big shots to keep the Golden Eagles in the game.

All memories of his slow start faded away as a red-hot Martinez continued his torrid shooting stretch into overtime and helped Clovis West pull away.

“My Dad, my brother, and my brother’s friend were telling me to stay calm and keep shooting it,” Martinez said. “I felt it was my time to step up and control the team.”

Martinez finished the game with 18 points, all scored after halftime, beating his team-best average of 16 PPG.

St. Joseph defended Clovis West well in the first half; the Knights’ length and size made trips inside the paint miserable for the Golden Eagles. But in the second half, Clovis West started switching smaller, faster guards like Martinez, Young, and senior Trey Carr onto bigger, slower defenders.

The adjustment revived the Golden Eagles’ offense. In turn, their defense stifled the Knights’ paint attack, which was consistent and productive in the first half.

6-foot-8 Clovis West senior Tyus Parrish-Tillman raised his game on both ends of the floor in the second half. The senior forward helped contain star St. Joseph freshman Tounde Yessoufou down the stretch and finished with a double-double – 16 points, 13 rebounds, and seven blocks.

Yessoufou ended the game with 15 points and 15 rebounds. The 6-foot-5 Yessoufou showed off his athleticism with high-flying rebounds and putbacks throughout the game, and the Knights appeared bigger, faster, and stronger than their counterparts for most of the game.

But although St. Joseph had flash and size, Clovis West had heart, which won them the prize.

Young, who spoke highly of his team’s never-give-up mentality, sank the game-clinching 3-pointer with 24 seconds left in overtime. Clovis West (30-1), improbably, won an Open Division crown and will await state playoff seeding.

“Indescribable,” Young said. “There’s no feeling like this. All those tough days running and conditioning were put in for this moment right here. It is surreal.”

Young’s final 3-pointer set off a wild celebration from the bewildered home crowd, many of whom walked around the gym afterward not believing what they just saw.

Almost like it was – magic.

Gabriel Camarillo has written for the Clovis Roundup since August 2019 and follows high school athletics, Fresno State football and former Clovis Unified student-athletes. Gabe also writes for The Collegian as a staff sports writer and works at One Putt Broadcasting as a board op for 940 ESPN radio.