Round 1 was electric. Round 2 was better. And now we wait.
"Honestly, I still think there's a Round 3 coming," Buchanan High coach Eric Swain said in reference to the Central Section Division I playoffs after his third-ranked Bears positioned themselves for a possible Tri-River Athletic Conference co-championship by defeating No. 2 Clovis East 81-80 Tuesday night before a crowd of around 1,800 in the Bears' gym.
Jackson Carbajal, in a Senior Night performance that many high school athletes script, but few fulfill, became Buchanan's career-leading scorer by delivering 24 of his 26 points in the second half -- including 14 in the fourth quarter -- as the Bears (19-6, 7-2) avenged a 72-63 loss at Clovis East (22-7, 7-2) three weeks ago.
Sophomore Alex Fertig scored 19 points, including five straight free throws in the final minutes, to repel the defending TRAC champion, which rallied behind senior point guard Robert Sandoval after trailing by 10 with 3 minutes to go.
"This gave us a chance to make Friday's game meaningful," said Swain, whose team will need to win at No. 1 Central (21-4, 8-1) in a regular-season finale to earn a piece of the crown.
And, at Buchanan, that would carry extra significance for a 17-year-old program that has only a 1995 co-Northeast Yosemite League title displayed in the school gym.
This is a school that has achieved high levels of success in virtually every sport other than boys and girls basketball -- due in part to next door Clovis West's dominance in the sport by both genders.
Buchanan now has top 10-ranked basketball teams in both. Swain's program gathered steam in his third year, in 2008, when the Bears swept Clovis West after having gone 1-26 against the Golden Eagles.
But, as opposed to that season, when Buchanan was 6-2 and contending in the TRAC before losing to Clovis East and Central, the Bears remain alive at the finish line. That one, however, will be found at Fresno's west side against the Grizzlies, who won 79-72 on the Bears' home floor two weeks ago. And Buchanan will play without two-year starting forward Lance Orender, who Swain said has been suspended for disciplinary reasons.
"We could win at Central, but we've got to play great," said Sacramento State-bound Carbajal, a four-year varsity impact player.
Sandoval scored 24 points, and Kevin Bailey contributed 10 of his 15 in the fourth quarter -- including a half-court 3-pointer at the buzzer -- for Clovis East, which will close at home against Madera on Friday.