Two basketball junkies try to keep pace with Clovis at Clovis West

Clovis West senior Brandon Recek pulls up for a shot in the second half of their win over Clovis on Tuesday, Feb. 13. Recek scored all 14 of his points in the second half, helping lead the Golden Eagles to a 26-3 overall record and 9-1 in league. Clovis fell to 14-13 and 2-8. (Contributed by Chad Cotton)

Paul: Here we go sports fans, back for another year of running diary madness as I’m joined here at Clovis West for the final TRAC boys game of the year as the Cougars of Clovis High visit Clovis West, a rivalry game with the two oldest and most storied high schools in Clovis Unified.

I’m joined here by Dr. Jay W. Pope, my partner in crime and fellow basketball junkie. Think of us as the male version of Thelma and Louise, except for, you know, the crazy crime spree and driving a convertible off of the Grand Canyon.

Jay: So great to do this with you again, Paul! I almost arrived too late tonight. It’s been a crazy day: My doctor told me that cortison wasn’t good for my knee. Then, he gave me a cortisone shot in my knee. Later, I discovered halfway through my day that there was a huge hole in the ‘central area’ of my pants. I untucked my shirt and moved on with my day like a trooper.

Paul: I can’t quite top that Jay, but I did stop and eat three tacos from a taco truck on the way here, that has to count for something right?

Jay: Tacos are the exception to the ‘if it arrives by trailer, beware’ rule. Senior Night for Clovis West. I love senior nights, even if they do feel a bit weird on a Tuesday. There’s Vance Walberg with a look of beaming pride on his face, applauding his seniors at center court. The bonds created through sports are irreplaceable.

The Clovis Cougars are a lot better than their 14-12 (2-7) record. They have an upbeat new coach in Cory Fischer and they look a lot more engaged than their recent squads. He has the rare knack of being supremely confident but not obnoxious, and the players feed off that. It looks like he’s having fun.

Paul: Clovis West comes in at 25-3 with a league title already wrapped up at 8-1 and a virtual lock (as opposed to a literal lock) to be the No. 1 seed in the D-I playoffs. They are, of course, led by head coach Vance Walberg in his second year of his second stint at the helm. During his 13 year tenure at Clovis West from 1989-2002, they went 343-68 with nine league titles, 10 CIF Central Section Championships appearances, including six titles. Pretty, pretty good methinks.

Clovis is led by guard Anthony Martinez who can light it up. The stocky senior needs 44 points to tie the school’s career scoring record. Can he get it tonight in hostile territory?

And Clovis West is led by senior Brandon Recek, a 6-foot-5 shooter who can finish at the rim and freshman guard Cole Anderson, who already has three Division I college offers.

Buckle up, both teams like to push the tempo.

The tip is off … Walberg is starting five seniors tonight who normally don’t start – love that he honors seniors who work hard throughout the year.

Fernando Guardado with a straight away 3 on the team’s first possession, 3-0. The goggled kid can shoot, no doubts there. And there’s a 78 percent chance you said ‘Googled’ in your head but alas, it’s goggled, as in the signature goggles he wears.

Jay: I love Guardado’s game. He rarely makes mistakes and is a fine all-around player. Clovis looks uncomfortable early. They are confident in their shooting, but they are forcing the issue down dead-end streets. Four turnovers in first 2:30. CW not looking much more comfy, however.

Paul: Fernando G with a strip steal on Martinez, perfect anticipation.

Jay: Triple for Martinez, 6-3, CW. His form is stellar.

Paul: Yep, he can shoot – nice rotation on the ball, shoulders square.

Jay: Scary moment for Martinez as he hits the deck on a layup at around the 4-minute mark in the 1Q. The sound of his head loudly hitting the floor was audible to everyone in the gym. I mean, REALLY loud. He can’t take the free throws. Josiah Leonard misses both of them. Tough break. Hard to make free throws that weren’t meant for you.

Paul: Oh man, that looks bad, it happened six feet away from us.

Now, at the 4:47 mark, the regular starters are in for CW: Anderson, junior Dante Chachere and seniors Recek, Nick Coleman and Eseosa Ogbeide.

It’s getting fun for the high-flying Golden Eagles – an alley oop from Recek to Chachere for a strong layup – 10-3 CW with 3:52 left. Chachere is usually on the passing end – he’s the QB on the football team.

Jay: Wahlberg’s 2-3 zone is really throttling the Cougars, especially with their length. Eagles pressing two players on the PG as well. Good to see Martinez back in the game after a short break. Malalis finally breaks the press and makes a fine driving layup, but the bigger story is that this press is bothering the Cougars a lot more than they want it to.

Paul: Another alley-oop to Chachere from 6-foot-7 senior Josiah de la Cerda. Fun fact: Chachere’s brother, Andre, was a standout San Jose State defensive back and is attending the NFL combine starting on Feb. 27. Their father played arena football and mother played college softball. Now, that’s some serious genes right there.

14-7, 1:55 left in first, I thought there’d be a ton of points scored in this game, let’s see if the pace picks up, CW beat them 80-70 at Clovis on Jan. 26.

Jay: Martinez airballs a 24-foot 3-pointer. Looks to the bench for some reassurance, but there’s nothing there. What a gorgeous spin move, however, on the next possession. Really composed. 14-9 CW end of first. He looks to be the one player on the floor who has free reins to shoot.

Paul: Hope Martinez is not feeling the effects of that fall, Cougars won’t be the same without him tonight.

Well, there’s my answer, a dipsy-doo layup for him, he’s back.

Jay: Good defense by Cooper Huyck this quarter. A couple of blocks and several adjusted shots. This game should be worse than 16-9, CW.

Paul: Huyck is long and tall and looks like he just walked off the stage of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ but that guy can sure block a shot.

I would say a solid crowd tonight, not loud or boisterous, unless you call the music in between this quarter loud and boisterous – and I do. Yes, it seem I’m slowly becoming a ‘get off my lawn’ kind of guy.

The Big 2 for CW, Recek and Anderson, held scoreless in first quarter. Tough to get a groove going when you don’t start, perhaps.

18-11, 6:43 left in second. More subs for CW – they come in droves – a Walberg staple.

Jay: How good is Martinez? They just threw an alley-oop to him in the post. He’s 5-foot-8. But wow, the Cougars must have 15 turnovers already. Their own man-to-man defense hasn’t been awful, but the length and pressing defense of CW is REALLY bothering them.

Paul: Walberg and staff going with the all black get-up and white eagle logo on team polo. Something I’ve noticed about Walberg every home game is about a half hour before game time, he retreats to his office/cave connected to the gym then comes out looking quite dapper. A “presto-change-o” moment for the Wizard of West.

Meanwhile, Clovis cuts lead to 24-18 but Coleman responds with a 3 in the corner, 27-18, 3:21 left in half.

Jay: Martinez just banked in a 3 to make it 27-21, CW. He looks bewildered, but he’ll take it. Good shooters have a tendency to have conversations with themselves if their shot is off by even an inch.

Paul: Just like a bloop hit in baseball, a banked 3-pointer counts in the box score.

Jay: It’s a line drive as far as the grandkids are concerned.

Paul: Silly turnover by CW, Walberg not happy, but Anderson gets a running 8-foot one-hander to go for an old school ‘and-1,’ 30-23, 2:20 left.

I think by the time Anderson’s career is done at CW, he’ll hold a lot of school records – he’s that talented.

Jay: Lovepreet Sran is a poised interior player – good ball-handling, fakes, footwork. Keeps Cougars within 5, 32-27 with 50 seconds left in the half. Perfect kind of pivot/swing player against a zone.

Paul: Sran is one of those guys in a pick-up game where you say to yourself: ‘This guy can’t score on me’ then proceeds to score in a row. Not that that’s ever happened to me or anything.

HALFTIME: 33-29 Clovis West. Gotta hand it to Clovis, hanging around only down four at half to a 25-3 team is impressive.

Jay: Cory Fischer almost sprinting off the floor at halftime, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. They cannot play much worse and they are only down 4 at the break. Tons of TOs from their guards (I mean, probably close to 15), but they are getting it done with rebounding and a stellar man-to-man defense that is switching everything on the perimeter. They’ve had to work much harder for their baskets but CW has not been much better in their half-court offense.

Paul: Of note, CW leading scorer Brandon Recek was held scoreless, averages about 20 a game, but certainly can get hot at any moment.

Jay: Great seeing former Bulldog basketballer Noel Felix on the Clovis bench. Fischer and the players love him and he appears to be a stellar bench coach.

Paul: Not only that Jay, but he looks like he can still throw it down.

Jay: Second half underway and Martinez makes a running jumper. He wanted the foul, but didn’t get it. Martinez is clearly the guy his teammates look for.

Paul: Looky here, Clovis only down 35-33 – two-point game guys, 6:13.

Jay: Did I mention that I just love Fernando Guardado’s game? Never seems to make a mistake. Another player who looks like he won’t hurt you but he’s an assassin.

Paul: CW not showing much of their patented press, falling back into a straight man-to-man, I’ve seen that more recently in games from Walberg.

Jay: Sran with a lovely left-handed layup in traffic and after a turnover, Malalis hits a 25-foot three and the Cougars are ahead 38-37 with 4:30 left in 3Q.

Paul: Can Clovis pull off the upset of the year? These guys aren’t playing intimidated that’s for sure.

CW is really off on its 3-point shooting, I can think of only two makes and maybe 11 misses. If my Common Core math skills are up-to-date, that’s 2-13. I would draw a picture but alas, my fingers are glued to the keyboard.

Jay: 28-foot three pointer by Martinez (no exaggeration at all) and it’s 41-37 Cougs.

Paul: An apprehensive hush here at CW at the Cougs take the lead but Recek with his first bucket on a driving layup and a foul, 41-40 Clovis as they are pumped!

Jay: Intensity has really stepped up in last minute. And-1 for Huyck who has three blocks. Missed FT, 43-40 Cougs.

Paul: Recek with a driving layup – 43-42 Clovis at 54 seconds, now entering fourth quarter.

Jay: Clovis West had a very well organized set on the last possession of the 3Q, but Clovis sniffed it out very well. By my count, four blocks for Huyck, none bigger than the one he just got to preserve a 43-42 lead. Clovis is currently in control.

35-foot three by Martinez (no exaggeration) answers a Cole Anderson three. They’re guarding each other now, but CW has been using a bunch of players on him all night, so that will probably change again. This is fun.

Paul: A Coleman three point play and a Recek drive and CW back on top, 50-46, 6:08 left. And now a Coleman 3, 53-46. Will they pull away?

Jay: Quick shots and misses by Clovis are giving Eagles confidence. Cougars need to go back to a more patient style and work the shot clock.

What a terrific no-look pass by Martinez to Malalis for an and-1 layup that barely creeps in. Stops the bleeding, 53-49. Martinez follows it up with a pull up baseline 3. 56-52 Cougars. CW heating up, but Cougs hanging.

Paul: Jay, we picked a good game to come to didn’t we? Throw out the 8-1 and 2-7 records – this is a rivalry game!

Bruno Mars music blaring, I love me some Bruno, just keeping it real but I really think ‘24K Magic’ wasn’t deserving of a Grammy, but that’s a discussion for a different time.

Jay: And I love that you love him, Paul. This is a terrific game. Martinez makes a nice left-handed layup but shortly thereafter commits his third foul.

Paul: Martinez doesn’t want to back down from freshman Anderson, two straight fouls committed by Martinez but Anderson with two strong, driving layups for a 60-55 lead, 2:16 left. Anderson’s got some moxy that’s for darn sure.

Jay: First timeout called tonight, Paul. Cheerleaders have been probably rehearsing something all week and they had to wait until 2:12 in the game to try it out.

Paul: 62-55 CW, it’ll be tough for Clovis to come back but … here’s that dude Martinez with another long three to cut it to four. He wants that scoring record but he’s burning for that win just as much.

Jay: You can tell a coach is good by what happens coming out of a timeout. Does Fischer elect to press here or does he trust his defense to get two stops? Well, foul by Huyck after a failed press sends Recek to the line. Not sure I agree with that, but I’m not a coach. 66-58 Eagles. Recek has been clutch down the stretch, poised and confident, in contrast to his out-of-rhythm first half.

Paul: Well, this one is all but over, but a valiant effort from Clovis, not only that but they played really hard.

Jay: It also looked as though they were endeavoring to win – and yearning.

Martinez just added yet another 3 from about 30 feet and finishes with 31 points. Too little too late, however, and the Eagles prevail, 69-63. Stinks to have a team play so hard and fall. Fischer wanted this win, but he’ll take comfort in knowing that for over half this game, his team was dictating the action against a 26-3 squad on their home court with no gimmicks, smoke, or mirrors. I like his demeanor a lot; when he hugs players from both teams after the game you can tell he means it.

Paul: The game seemed to go by very quickly, clocked at 1 hour 16 minutes, not a lot of timeouts taken or free throws.

Jay: Right, but the end, the part when the buzzer actually sounded. That was extremely sudden.

Paul: Clovis West just cemented a No. 1 seed for the playoffs which start Feb. 20 and end at Selland Arena on March 3. And I tell you what, I don’t think anyone will want to play Clovis, those guys are primed to deliver an upset.

And thank you all for reading our little ditty about a basketball game between Clovis West and Clovis, tons of fun.

Jay: Can’t tell you how impressed I was with the atmosphere tonight. Great to see so many families and children enjoying themselves and to see such great sportsmanship from every person associated with both programs. I was very impressed. Let’s do this again soon.

Paul Meadors
Paul Meadors is a man of many talents. He is a elementary school teacher, Junior High athletic director, and basketball coach in Traver, CA, in addition to serving as the Sports Editor for the Clovis Roundup. He is also the author of the humorous book “Letters to eBay,” and he has recorded a piano album of his own compositions titled “Surviving the Storm.” He lives in Fresno with wife Lori and daughters Georgie, Alex and Ruthie.