A game played in championship-like theater -- No. 1 vs. No. 2 and before a record, turnaway crowd of more than 3,000 -- had just been completed Saturday night at Clovis East High and the first words from Buchanan coach Eric Swain were loaded: "Round 1."
He would complete his thought: "We'll see them at our place."
And, he could have added: "Maybe Round 3 in Selland Arena" for the Central Section Division I championship March 6.
Top-ranked Clovis East won the first round, 72-63, after establishing first-half control virtually without its franchise player, Robert Sandoval, who sat after picking up two quick fouls.
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The Timberwolves (19-5, 4-0), seeing an 11-point lead reduced to one, 40-39, then pulled away in the final 11 minutes as the senior point guard took control on both ends of the floor, Kevin Bailey (20 points) dominated the interior and Travis Cooper (15 points) was terrific once again off the bench.
It was Cooper's baskets following his offensive rebounds that launched a 9-0 run, making it 49-39, and sealed it, at 70-59, with a minute to go.
"They outcoached us and outcompeted us," Swain said. "I thought, with 50-50 [loose] balls, they got to a lot more than we did in the second half."
Round 2 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference will be played Feb. 16 at Buchanan (15-5, 3-1), which received 18 points apiece from guards Jackson Carbajal and Alex Fertig.
"I'm not discouraged," Swain said. "I knew this was going to be hard. The pressure was on them here. When they come to our place, it will be back on us. There's a lot of basketball left."
Beyond Round 2, it remains to be seen if a bonus round among the pair will be played on the biggest stage of all -- in early March at Selland.
It was there that the Timberwolves captured consecutive titles in 2007 and '08 before having Buchanan sabotage what surely was going to be a hat trick last season.
Clovis East had roared through the TRAC with a 10-0 record, was top-seeded and 25-4 before losing 70-69 in the D-I quarterfinals to a Bears team it had thrashed 90-66 only nine days earlier on the same home court.
But Saturday, in the final minutes, the Timberwolves' student body was letting it rip -- "This is our house, this is our house," -- punctuating the obvious after its team had restored ownership in a game moved back a day because of a gym conflict involving a band review competition.
It proved to be incidental brilliance, apparently drawing hundreds of neutral fans to the game.
"I had lots of calls from people outside of Clovis East and Buchanan asking if there would be tickets available because they thought it was a sellout," Timberwolves athletic director Pete Price said.
They would see an unusual development, with Clovis East taking a 34-27 halftime lead despite the oft-absence of Bee All-Star Sandoval. Saig Horn took over at point guard and scored all nine of his points in the half.
"I tip my hat off to my teammates," Sandoval said. "They came through and did a great job."