The first-half clock ticked: 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 … and Michael Orlich — as has become a do-it-in-his-sleep thing — sizzled a 25-foot pass from the top of the key to Adrian Antunez.
The sophomore scored on a reverse layup, closing a 17-2 Clovis West High run, and it was 48-32 Golden Eagles over Central and a capacity crowd exhaled Friday night.
It was breakneck pace in a game Clovis West would continue to dominate, winning 72-48 at home before about 2,200 fans.
That reversed in a big way the Central Section’s sixth-ranked Eagles’ 53-44 loss at No. 5 Central two weeks ago and locked the teams atop the Tri-River Athletic Conference at 6-1.
And what now?
Three games remaining for each in the regular season, seeding in the office of section Commissioner Jim Crichlow on Feb. 21, and we wait.
“I’m glad I’m not doing the seedings,” Orlich says. “That’s going to be a tough day for them.”
This is certain: The Division I field is as wide open as it’s been in years.
Second-ranked Centennial is unbeaten in the Southwest Yosemite League and has defeated Central on a neutral court — a decision that surely looms large in the seeding process.
Edison, the defending D-I champion, should go 10-0 in the County/Metro Athletic Conference, especially after winning at Bullard last week.
Clovis North, Clovis East, Bullard and Liberty-Bakersfield are as good as any on a given night.
But Clovis West — at its best — appears to be just that.
And it all begins and ends with Orlich, a three-year starting point guard, who went scoreless against Central.
That’s what makes him a leading Bee Player of the Year candidate.
“Michael runs this ball club,” says Tom Orlich, the coach and father, who actually has said little about his son when he’s had plenty of opportunity for three seasons. “He facilitates everything — he runs it, he knows what to do, he knows what to call.”
The Eagles (17-5), burning Central’s pressure, staged a clinic in back-door cuts to the basket. And the result often had Michael Orlich feeding fellow three-year mate Stacey Leggett, who finished with 27 points.
Antunez finished with 19 points and a plethora of others contributed, like George Peterson Jr., three-year starter Colin DeLaere, Walter Graves III and Jalyn Abney, son of former Fresno State star Larry Abney.
“We have a hero every night, that’s the beauty of our team,” Tom Orlich said after win No. 811 in a 38-year career, according to section historian Bob Barnett. “There’s no one you can key on, and we have a great bench.”
Orlich, after going 521-184 in 25 years at South Lake Tahoe, is now 290-89 at Clovis West. He has been a fixture at Selland Arena, where the section finals have been played for 10 years and will be again March 6-7.
He has won three of the Eagles’ nine section titles, and odds favor his fourth, should they make Selland because no one can match the court savvy of his son, Leggett and DeLaere.
But Clovis West, after turning Senior Night into its own playground, must end the TRAC on the road against Buchanan, Clovis East and Clovis.
“It’s not going to get any easier, I’ll tell you that,” Michael Orlich says. “If we want to win Valley, we’ve got to beat everybody, I don’t care what seed we are.”