Tom Orlich won his 733rd game in a 34-year coaching career Saturday night, and it was after this one that he wore a smile as perhaps never before.
His second-ranked Clovis West team had just clinched its seventh Tri-River Athletic Conference title in his nine seasons in the program, losing all of a 14-point lead before rebounding for a 65-61 victory over No. 5 Clovis East before a crowd of around 1,800 in the Golden Eagles' gym.
Charlie Thompson scored 23 points and Denzel Johnson added 21, including Clovis West's last eight in the final 2 minutes, as the Golden Eagles (20-4, 7-1) mounted a three-game lead over four teams -- Buchanan, Clovis East, Clovis North and Clovis -- with two games remaining in the league.
It was one thing to win the TRAC, quite another to run away with the crown for Clovis West, whose tallest player (Johnson) is 6-foot-3 and whose post play is typically defended by players 5-10 or shorter.
"Coming into the league, I don't really think we were even in the conversation to win it," said Orlich, who coached South Lake Tahoe for 25 years before coming to Clovis West. "There was Central, there was the [Central Section Division I] defending champion Clovis East, there was Buchanan and Clovis North seemed to be doing very well.
"For our kids to be this consistent in league play is quite an achievement considering strength of the league, which I've never seen in 36 years [including two as a South Lake Tahoe assistant]. I think the TRAC is one of the best conferences in the state, top to bottom. We may have not the best team, but the depth really reflects well on coaching, players and the competition."
Orlich then deflected credit toward his players, such as smallish postmen Joel Ruble (5-101/2) and Khaneal Mason (5-8). Then there's Johnson, a straight-A student headed to Santa Clara.
"You have to have the horses," Orlich said, "and I have one in Denzel Johnson."