The “road warriors” did it again.
Over the past eight days, the Clovis North boys’ basketball team has traveled far and wide, across Northern California, from Orinda and Folsom to Atherton and San Francisco.
But the Broncos will have one more stop – Sacramento, on the grandest stage in California boys’ basketball.
No. 13 seed Clovis North defeated No. 3 St. Ignatius, 58-56, in the Division-I Northern California boys’ basketball title game on Tuesday night. The Broncos (22-11) will play SoCal No. 1 seed Damien (31-4) for the D-I state championship Friday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
“I’m just elated,” said Clovis North head coach Tony Amundsen. “I am so happy for our guys. They have played so hard all season long. They’re a great group of kids. Some of these kids I’ve had since third grade, so the bond and the relationship we have is a really special one.”
The close-knit group was tested several times during their state playoff run. Clovis North trailed by double digits in the third quarter in back-to-back games – 15 points to Miramonte and 17 points to Folsom. Miramonte was one missed free throw away from knocking Clovis North out in the first round.
But the Broncos’ pressure defense and up-tempo offense emerged late in their first three state playoff wins, just as it did when they trailed St. Ignatius by five with three minutes left.
Sophomore Connor Amundsen scored five quick points to tie the game at 54, but before Clovis North could finish celebrating, St. Ignatius junior John Squire ignited the home crowd with a thunderous two-handed slam dunk.
Squire presented problems for Clovis North inside the paint all night; he finished with a double-double, 18 points and 24 rebounds.
Amundsen tied the game again, 56-56, with another bucket with 1:34 left. Jaylen Bryant helped Clovis North get a stop on defense, swatting a St. Ignatius layup attempt into the stands.
As the clock ticked down in the final minute, Amundsen dribbled up the court, the ball in his hands with a chance to take the lead.
He crossed over to his left, pump faked to send St. Ignatius senior Ryan Conroy flying through the air, and swished a wide-open jumper with 35.8 seconds left.
The defense, the catalyst to Clovis North’s state playoff run, needed one more stop.
Clovis North switched well on defense and nearly forced a turnover. St. Ignatius senior Giancarlo Toledo still managed to get a 3-point attempt off with five seconds left, but it clanged off the front rim.
A mad scramble for the ball ensued, the officials called a jump ball with only 0.7 seconds on the clock, and St. Ignatius had possession.
On the final play of the game, Conroy became open underneath the basket, but the inbounds pass went to Toledo on the perimeter, who missed the rim on a 3-point attempt while being double-teamed.
Immediately after the buzzer sounded, the Broncos spilled onto the court in jubilation. Athletic director Coby Lindsey, who coined the nickname “road warriors” last week, hugged the head coach Amundsen.
The coach’s son Connor, who led Clovis North with 21 points, could not stop smiling afterward. He and his teammates were going to State.
“I’ve definitely dreamed about it,” he said, “and I’m super happy that it’s real now.”