There’s a new name on the block when it comes to powerhouse boys basketball in the Central Section.
And it’s Central High.
Not your traditional powerhouse program, at least not historically.
But the Grizzlies certainly deserve strong consideration.
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After needing 91 years to capture its first section title in 2016, Central has now reeled off three straight Division I crowns.
Grizzlies senior point guard Cashimen Williams penetrated into the lane before passing to Jahmai Bartley under the basket for the go-ahead layup with 21 seconds left as Central edged Bullard 79-77 on Saturday night at Selland Arena.
“Most definitely puts us in the conversation (of basketball powers),” Williams said. “That’s three years straight. We got a lot of doubters out there.
“We got each other’s back. That’s all that matters.”
Central’s latest championship comes with a question.
On Bullard's final possession, Knights point guard Chris Estrada was dribbling near half court and Central’s Avery Boyd was applying pressure.
As Estrada went to cross over to his left with about 7 seconds left, the ball hit the outstretched right leg of Boyd.
Boyd corralled the ball for the championship-clinching steal.
Under National High School Federal basketball rules, a kick ball is defined as a player intentionally striking the ball with any part of the leg or foot.
It’s unclear if Boyd intentionally stuck out his leg to avoid getting beat on the crossover – or if it was accidental in his attempt to stay in front of Estrada.
Upon seeing a still shot of the play, Bullard coach Tim Amundsen said, “It’s a kick to me.” But, he added, “What are you going to do?”
Central (24-7) avenged a 73-70 loss to Bullard from the regular season and seized its first section title without an imposing center.
Williams finished with 14 points and five assists – all while sitting out half of the third and fourth quarters after collecting four fouls early on.
Teammate Cam’Ron Wilson added a game-high 20 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
And Uriah Carter, who played for Bullard last season and was serenaded with “Traitor, Traitor” chants from the Knights student section when he shot free throws, provided 19 points and seven rebounds.
“This year’s team is totally different from the past two years,” Central coach Greg Streets said. “We didn’t necessarily have that dominant figure in the middle. So we had to rely more so on our guards this year.
“It gets harder and harder. This year was the hardest championship to win because pretty much everybody prepared for us out of this world. I’ve never seen these high schools prepare for us the way they did this year compared to what they’d done in the past.”
Andrew Parker led Bullard with 17 points and Justin Parks came off the bench for 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“Central’s good,” Amundsen said. “We just had a breakdown at a bad time.”
Central Section basketball finals
Division I: Clovis West 63, Clovis North 49
Division II: Bakersfield 54, Mission Oak 52
Division III: Immanuel 43, Golden Valley 37
Division IV: San Joaquin Memorial 58, Sierra Pacific 51
Division V: Chowchilla 49, Firebaugh 41
Division I: Central 79, Bullard 77
Division II: San Joaquin Memorial 71, Selma 66
Division III: Immanuel 68, Sanger 57
Division IV: Kerman 55, Bakersfield Christian 49
Division V: California City 77, Corcoran 68