They turned away fans at the door, but not top-ranked Clovis East High inside Friday night in a Tri-River Athletic Conference showdown at Central that's sure to mean something in a month.
Robert Sandoval, the Timberwolves' CEO and the Central Section's premier player, delivered 19 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds and, in general, controlled the floor in a don't-blink game that valued it as they beat the No. 3 Grizzlies 85-78.
A capacity crowd of more than 2,400 saw Clovis East (17-5, 2-0) bolt to a 15-point lead in the first half, have it reduced to a point twice in the second half, but hold on in large part to Sandoval's management and junior forward Kevin Bailey, who scored all of his 16 points in the second half.
Such a road win in the TRAC, which has four teams ranked among the top five in the section, is critical in the Timberwolves' mission to earn a second-straight league title and top seed in the Division I playoffs.
"We'll take it, man," Clovis East coach Tim Amundsen said three days after escaping, 56-55, at home against Clovis. "It was a great win because I thought [Central] played well, but we matched it."
Also figuring prominently was Travis Cooper, the cleanup senior who has played in the shadows of the stars -- Sandoval, Bailey and graduated John Hedrington -- for three years.
Doing all the little things that count so big at the end of the day -- scrambling for loose balls, causing turnovers, collecting steals and grabbing offensive rebounds -- Cooper scored 12 points, including arguably the most important bucket of the 163-point game.
Central (14-4, 1-1), coming off a 72-64 road conquest of Clovis West and seemingly willed to win in this one by gifted 6-7 senior Rakim Brown (33 points, 10 rebounds, five steals, six assists), had hacked a nine-point deficit to 75-70 on baskets by Devin Duke and Justin Lea following Brown steals with 1 minute and 45 seconds to go.
Clovis East then missed a shot, but Cooper swooped in, snatched the offensive rebound and scored for a 77-70 lead.
"It's hard to keep Travis on the dang floor because he always gets in foul trouble because he's so aggressive," Amundsen said. "When he's in the game, we're a better team, no question."
Following Cooper's putback, six free throws by Bailey and two by Sandoval secured the decision for Clovis East, which will return home Tuesday to play No. 2 Clovis West. The Golden Eagles (13-4, 0-2) lost 68-55 at No. 5 Buchanan (14-4, 2-0) to close their first winless opening week in the TRAC's 13-year history.