Upset City: How defense is fueling Clovis North state playoff run

Clovis North sophomore Connor Amundsen is closely guarded by St. Joseph freshman Tounde Yessoufou in San Luis Obispo on December 20, 2021. (Photo: Gabe Camarillo / Clovis Roundup)

Defense travels well.

So does the Clovis North boys’ basketball team.

In two road playoff games, Clovis North brought its high energy and defensive intensity to courts in Orinda and Folsom, CA. Both served the Broncos well in a pair of upsets over the No. 4 seed Miramonte Matadors, 70-68, and No. 5 seed Folsom Bulldogs, 45-43.

No. 13 seed Clovis North (20-11) will travel next to Atherton, CA on Saturday. The NorCal No. 1 seed Sacred Heart Prep Gators await the Broncos, who can advance to the regional final – the Final Four of California boys’ basketball, if you will – with one more upset win.

Clovis North put the state on notice by making the Elite Eight in Division-I. There is no higher seed left in the bracket, and if you look at the four D-I regional semifinal matchups, one team looks an awful lot like Cinderella.

No. 4 St. Bernard (24-7) at No. 1 Damien (29-4)
No. 3 Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks (21-7) at No. 2 Crean Lutheran (24-6)

No. 13 Clovis North (20-11) at No. Sacred Heart Prep (25-4)
No. 3 St. Ignatius (22-7) at No. 2 Inderkum (28-2)

The bracket went chalk for seven of the eight regional semifinalists. Then, there are the road warriors from Clovis, CA.

The Broncos earned their way into elite company by clamping down on defense in the second half of both state playoff wins. Stingy defense turned into an unstoppable offense. In the first round against Miramonte on Tuesday, Clovis North found itself down 48-33 in the third quarter but responded with a 19-0 run while holding the Matadors to four made field goals for the rest of regulation.

“Nothing was really going for us at that point,” said head coach Tony Amundsen. “We just really picked up the energy. Jordan [Espinoza] drew a foul, got to the free throw line, made a couple free throws to kill their run, and we just went on a run ourselves. Our kids never gave up.”

With four seconds left in regulation, the Matadors had two free throws to win the game, but only one of two went in, sending the game to overtime tied at 62.

Sophomore Connor Amundsen made three of four free throws in overtime, and sophomore Jordan Espinoza hit the go-ahead jumper for Clovis North and drew an offensive foul from Miramonte on the very next play.

“[Miramonte] was bigger and stronger, and we’re quicker,” said Tony Amundsen. “They were trying to manhandle us whereas we were using our quickness.”

On Miramonte’s final possession, Clovis North flexed its defensive muscles one more time. Junior Jaylen Bryant blocked the Matadors’ game-tying attempt in the final seconds, and Miramonte misfired on a desperation shot as the buzzer blared.

Bryant added 20 points to his block, and Amundsen led the team with 21. Espinoza chipped in 15 points.

Defense ruled again for the Broncos on Thursday in their state quarterfinal matchup. Clovis North trailed big yet again, down 35-20 at halftime and 41-24 midway through the third quarter, but ended the game on a 21-2 run.

Amundsen led the Broncos again Thursday with 15 points. Espinoza sat out almost the entire first half with two fouls and scored all 12 of his points after halftime. Freshman Loukas Jones scored eight points.

Folsom scored only eight points in the entire second half and just two in the decisive fourth quarter.

“They had three shot attempts [in the final 1:30] and we just kept getting stops,” Amundsen said.

The ninth-year head coach added that the grueling stretch of TRAC play, which now has two boys’ basketball teams in the regional semifinals and almost had another in Central, proved beneficial in March.

“We’ve got a lot of staying power,” Amundsen said. “We’ve grinded all season long and when you do that, it makes you ready for these moments. You’re ready to handle them, and our kids have done that all year long. They work extremely hard in every practice… They’re getting everything they deserve right now. They’re awesome kids.”

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.