Central High opened the Tri-River Athletic Conference Tuesday night by making an emphatic statement -- one even laced with a bit of history.
But in the TRAC this season, arguably the league's best ever, all that buys you is momentum for another brawl.
"It's a great start, and bring on [Clovis] East," coach Lauren LeBeau said after his third-ranked Grizzlies opened a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter before closing a 72-64 conquest of No. 2 Clovis West.
According to Central officials, it was only the Grizzlies' third win in school history over the Golden Eagles (13-3), and only their second victory on the homecourt of the state's 16th-ranked Clovis West, the Central Section's most dominant team in the past two decades.
"Anytime you win in this building, it's a special event," LeBeau said. "We tell our kids to act like it's happened before but, in reality, it hasn't [with one exception]. We're ecstatic; we've worked awfully hard to get to this point."
They've done so without three-year starting guard Jarred White, the near-hero in the Grizzlies' last-second, 66-65 loss to Edison for last season's Division I title. He was dismissed from the team for the season for disciplinary reasons in early December.
Central (14-3), still loaded with guards such as Anthony Trammell who attack the basket with authority and at breakneck speed, will return home Friday and brace for top-ranked Clovis East, the section's winningest program in the past four years.
The Timberwolves (16-5) rallied for a 56-55 homecourt win over Clovis.
"I'll take any one-point win in the TRAC," Clovis East coach Tim Amundsen said.
Central, swept by the defending TRAC champion Timberwolves last year, overwhelmed Clovis West with backcourt depth behind Trammell (20 points), Devin Duke (14) and Tejeshwar Ghuman (11), who made sensational layups appear routine.
"Our system is designed for that," LeBeau said. "Every drill in practice has somebody going to the rack. We only shoot two shots, it's no secret -- going to the rack or spot-up 3s. So the layup is the one you better master."
Returning Bee All-Star forward Rakim Brown, a 6-foot-7 forward and one of only three seniors on the team, delivered 11 points and 12 rebounds for Central, which took a 48-41 lead in a dizzying first half.
And that was launched by a 24-24 first quarter.
"That first quarter was as explosive as any game I've been a part of," LeBeau said. "That was two heavyweights in the section going toe-to-toe. The difference was I think we took their best shot and were able to withstand it."
Jason Ritchey scored 22 of his 31 points in the first half for Clovis West, which had won 11 in a row.
Denzel Johnson added 20 points, but the Eagles had only three other players score.
Central's win came 10 months after the heartbreak loss to Edison at Selland Arena.
"That's history," Trammell said. "We're ready, we're coming back this year -- even harder."