Clovis News: Sports

TRAC playoffs cycle favors the underdogs

A pattern has been established among Tri-River Athletic Conference teams, and it was predictable.

As it progressively developed into the Central Section's elite league – now five Clovis Unified schools in addition to Central – it was inevitable that teams would collide in the postseason after, in the case of basketball, playing each other twice in conference.

And simple percentages make it difficult to beat a team three times.

Sure enough: Clovis West's boys swept Clovis East in the 2008 TRAC season only to lose to the Timberwolves for the section Division I championship at Selland Arena; Clovis East swept Buchanan in the 2009 TRAC only to lose – as a top seed – to the Bears in D-I's first round in 2009.

Then the most glaring example of all: Clovis West's baseball team, having beaten Buchanan three times last spring, lost to the Bears for the D-I title.

The message, then, for the team that has done the sweeping: "If you get there [in the playoffs], you almost have to consider yourself an underdog sooner or later," Clovis West basketball coach Tom Orlich says.

Well, his Golden Eagles have gotten there.

In what promises to draw a feverish, capacity crowd to their own gym at 7 p..m today, the D-I top seeds oppose No. 4 Clovis East after defeating the T'Wolves 76-71 and 65-61 and winning the TRAC.

"Then again," Orlich says, "it's how teams are playing and who's getting better."

Clearly, Clovis West has gotten better: The Eagles have won 22 of 23 after an 0-3 start, including an 87-42 demolition of No. 9 Centennial in the quarterfinals.

As for D-I defending champion Clovis East (19-11)?

Well, which one?

The one that defeated state-ranked Crespi-Encino 75-69 in December?

Or the one that lost to a 2-8 TRAC team, Central, 57-52 two weeks ago?

Or how about the one that nearly blew an 18-point lead before surviving 67-65 at home to No. 5 Liberty-Bakersfield in the quarters?

"We either play really well or really bad," says coach Tim Amundsen, whose T'Wolves have won three of the past four D-I titles. "The inconsistency has been frustrating to deal with. But I think we're the scariest team in the playoffs – there's no one we can't beat."

No longer gifted at point guard following the loss of two-year star Robert Sandoval, The Bee's 2010 Player of the Year, Clovis East is rotating two freshmen, two sophomores and three juniors among its top 10.

They returned two seniors with varsity experience, but they form arguably the section's most explosive 1-2 combination in Kevin Bailey and Antwoun Whitfield.

The Clovis East-Clovis West winner will play No. 2 Bakersfield or No. 3 Bullard in the D-I championship at 8 p.m. Saturday at Selland Arena, closing the section's two-day finals in Fresno's downtown venue.

The top four seeds, as determined by section commissioner Jim Crichlow's four-man committee, have reached the semis in four of the five divisions.

Tulare feared in D-II

Given top-seeded Clovis North's 68-62 overtime escape at home against No. 8 Redwood in the quarters, No. 2 Tulare High has emerged as the favorite in D-II, if the Redskins weren't all along.

Tulare (25-1), seeking its first Selland appearance since losing to Washington 70-49 for the D-III title in 2006, will play at home tonight against No. 3 Memorial (17-9).

Panthers coach Pat Geil is looking for a miracle while attempting to defend the Redskins' terrific trio of guard William Stallworth and 6-6 forwards Keonta Vernon and David Love.

Says Geil: "Stallworth can flat out score, Vernon is a beast on the boards and Love might be the toughest matchup because of his size and skill. They remind me of a Southern California team because of their athletic ability and size."

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