You know you're becoming a legitimate player in Tri-River Athletic Conference athletics when you're doing one of two things: competing well against Clovis West or beating the Golden Eagles.
With a runaway-leading 162 Central Section titles in 30 years, they are the ultimate barometer.
And that brings us to Central.
Generally, in the TRAC's 13-year history, the Grizzlies have taken their lumps while attempting to upgrade their overall program when they could have bailed long ago to a lesser league.
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But there are some special things happening.
Consider the biggies -- football, boys basketball and baseball. Central is 3-0 against Clovis West this school year, having won 24-3 in football and 72-64 and 85-77 in basketball.
Today, the Grizzlies gun for another with a 9-0 baseball team that will open the TRAC season with a 3:45 p.m. game at Stan Bledsoe Field.
The Eagles -- runners-up in the section's Division I playoffs a year ago -- have a 9-1 record and are ranked No. 8 in the state.
But they're buckling up for Central -- 5-22 only two years ago, but already 26-14 in two seasons under coach Brad Fontes.
"I have no doubt they've arrived," Clovis West coach Kevin Patrick said. "I worked with Brad [previously as coaches] at Reedley, and I knew it was just a matter of time [before Central] competed at a high level."
Similarly, Fontes is taking the TRAC seriously. Its teams march out of nonleague play 48-9-1, including Buchanan (9-1), Madera (8-1), Clovis (7-2-1) and Clovis East (6-4).
"In this conference, you can't make mistakes," said Fontes, the former McLane standout catcher who played five years in the minor leagues, reaching as high as Double-A in the Texas Rangers' organization. "You play other teams out of the conference, make mistakes, and sometimes you get by. But not against these guys. Make a mistake and 99.9% of the time, you'll pay."
Such was the case last year, when the Grizzlies emerged from nonleague play 8-2 only to go 5-10 in the TRAC, including 5-3, 7-3 and 4-2 losses to Clovis West.
And then followed yet another defeat to the Eagles -- 9-0 in the D-I quarterfinals.
But as opposed to Clovis West, which advanced three seniors to the major college level -- J.D. Salles (Fresno State), Sean Silva (UNLV) and Jared Lee (UNLV) -- Central returns the foundation from a 17-14 team.
It begins with 2009 All-TRAC selection Jordan Brink, a junior right-hander who's 1-0 with three saves. He bats third in the lineup and plays shortstop when not on the mound.
"In a perfect world," Fontes said, "I would [pitch] him Tuesdays and Fridays, and close out both games."
Brink's role as a closer will be dictated by the success of starters Aaron Graef (3-0), a 6-foot-5 senior left-hander who's attracting college interest, and junior right-hander Bobby Bivings (2-0).
Sophomore Anders Nelson, who hit .330 in the final two rounds of TRAC play last year, has experienced labrum problems and has been shifted from short to second to minimize throwing demands.
"We know what's in store," Fontes said, "but ... we'll give ourselves a chance to be there in the end."
Bri No. 2 only to Jackie
Clovis West High's Brianna Orlich's 39-point, 13-rebound performance against Santa Monica on Saturday night in the Southern California Regionals evoked memories of the most remarkable high school effort, male or female, I've seen in 34 years at The Bee.
The gold medal: Memorial's Jackie White scoring 45 points, including all of her team's 24 in the fourth quarter, in a 67-59 conquest of state-ranked Rio Americano-Sacramento in the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions on March 14, 1980, at the Oakland Coliseum Arena.
The senior guard made 12 of 14 shots in the fourth to rally the Panthers from an eight-point deficit to a 67-59 victory against a team that arrived 29-0.
White converted three of her own last-minute steals into layups, including one at the buzzer.
The crowd of 7,500 gave her a prolonged standing ovation afterward, and the Rio Americano players joined them.
Sue Mahackian, Memorial's point guard then -- and Edison's girls coach now -- makes two interesting points: White pulled this off at a time the 3-point shot didn't exist, nor did the smaller ball now used for girls games.
A day later, White scored 26 points in a 68-60 loss to unbeaten Berkeley for the TOC title.
Orlich and Clovis West, likewise, have a daunting assignment: Four-year reigning state D-I champion and nationally fifth-ranked Long Beach Poly (31-2), at 6 p.m. Saturday at USC's Galen Center.