Section Sports Finals; surprising and predictable

Clovis West girls vs St. Joseph’s of Santa Maria. (Photo by Jess Gonzalez)

by Jess Gonzalez

Feb. 24, 2024 – There were surprises, but more often than not, the higher ranked teams prevailed during the Central Section Basketball Championships Finals at Fresno’s Selland Arena this past Friday and Saturday.

The 12 division finals were a basketball junkie’s delight with some very competitive games that had fans sitting on the edge of their seats.

Girls Division 1 surprise

One of the surprises was a team used to winning big at this level—the Clovis West Girls. However, contrary to previous years in which they won in blowouts, the Girls Division 1 final went down to the wire with No. 1 CW winning 45-41 over No. 2 St. Joseph’s of Santa Maria.

For many fans seeing the Lady Eagles at risk of losing at Selland was extremely unusual. They came into the finals with an imposing 29-2 record and had won 11 straight Section Finals. For their part, the Lady Knights were 23-5 coming in.

But, from the opening tip-off it was evident St. Joseph’s had talent and were not intimidated by CW. The teams traded baskets and took turns taking the lead with exciting scoring runs. It was nip and tuck game all the way.

For CW versatile 5’2” point guard Athena Tomlinson was doing everything on the court as she lived up to her press clippings. For St. Joseph’s 6’2” forward Avary Cain was a major force. She showed great quickness and basketball smarts as she scored 15 points from inside and out.

However, when she fouled out with 6:09 to go in the game, St. Joseph’s lost it heart and soul. Her team showed much character in continuing to battle, but they could not overtake CW. St. Joseph’s aggressiveness gave CW fits, but they paid for it.

Aside from Cain, they lost two other players to fouls including point guard Kai Oani who scored 10 points. No one fouled out for CW.

Forward Riley Walls led CW with 13 points followed by Ariah Smith with 11. Playing a key role in the CW victory was 6’3” junior center Alexis Swillis grabbing key rebounds and scoring 8 points.

Both CW and St. Joseph’s now move on to the California state playoffs.

Clovis North beats the big guys

In the Boys Division 1 final, coming in there were contradictions and deceiving appearances. But, when all was said and done, Clovis North defeated St. Joseph’s of Santa Maria by a score of 69-61.

At 26-5 for the season, Clovis North came in as the No. 1 seed in the section while St. Joseph’s was the 2 seed with a glowing record of 30-2—having won its last 17 games. Yet, in California state rankings, St. Joseph’s was ranked 13th coming in while Clovis North was ranked 16th.

Just warming up, St. Joseph’s looked big and strong—very imposing. For its part Clovis North appeared small and thin. With a pair of 6’9” players, plus 6’6” star Tounde Yessoufou, St. Joseph’s looked big and powerful. But looks don’t count in sports—just heart.

Clovis North was quick and aggressive and played tough under the human trees. They outscored St. Joseph’s in the paint even though the Knights dominated that area early with tremendous dunks.

The first half was a war with the Santa Maria team leading by one—26-25 at the horn. Yet whatever Coach Tony Amundsen told his troops at halftime worked.

The Broncos outscored the Knights 20-10 in the third quarter and then traded baskets with St. Joseh’s the rest of the way to take the Section Final.

Talented Yessoufou of St. Joseph’s was the game’s leading scorer with 26 points. However, his output was offset by Broncos Conner Amundsen with 21 points and Jordan Espinoza with 20.

St. Joseph’s goes into the State playoffs with only their third loss of the season. Clovis North, who lost to Clovis West at the end of the TRAC season, goes into the playoffs with momentum.

Boys State Wrestling Championships

Feb. 23, 2024 – Bakersfield   Poway High School of San Diego won its 5th state title with 290.5 points establishing a new scoring record for the boys state high school wrestling championships held in Bakersfield.

Buchanan High School of Clovis placed second with 255 points while little Gilroy scored 206 points to place third. The Clovis Cougars ended up in 5th place with 144 points. Bakersfield placed 6th with 124 points.

Individually, Clovis area wrestlers captured two golds and two silver medals at the state meet. Rocklin Zinkin, a sophomore at Buchanan, won the 113-pound title with a UTB 2-1 decision over Edwin Sierra of Poway. His cousin Nikade Zinkin, a junior at Clovis, also took home a gold medal in defeating Jeff Lopez of Clovis West with a 3-0 decision.

Besides Lopez’ silver medal won by area wrestlers, the other one went to Joseph Toscano of Buchanan who lost a tough 2-1 decision to Moses Mirabel from Gilroy.

Girls State Wrestling Championships

Feb. 23, 2024 – Two Clovis area girls won state titles to repeat their golden performances from 2023.

At the 115-pound division, Isabella Marie Gonzales, a junior at Clovis East, became a two-time state titlist in winning a 6-1 decision over Kylee Golz, a junior at Trabuco Hills.

The second Clovis area to become a two-time state winner in girls wrestling was Leilani Lemus a sophomore at Clovis High School. She captured the 170-state crown by defeating Alexandria Perez, a junior at La Costa Canyon, with a 5-0 decision.

Walnut High School became a first-time state girl wrestling team champion by scoring 96 points while Clovis East finished 9th with 47 points.