Clovis News: Sports

Clovis West boys top Clovis East in D-I hoops

When it was over, a gasping crowd of 2,000 having left Clovis West High following the Golden Eagles' latest epic boys basketball showdown with Clovis East Wednesday night, Denzel Johnson talked about a hypothetical script.

"It wouldn't have been written any better," the Clovis West senior said.

One also might say he hardly could have played any better in the Central Section Division I semifinal.

"This is what you dream about when you're little," the Santa Clara-bound guard said after delivering a key blocked shot with a minute to go and two free throws with 5.2 seconds remaining to secure the top-seeded Eagles' 60-56 win over the No. 4 Timberwolves.

Johnson, carrying a smallish 24-4 team all season, finished with 25 points as Clovis West advanced to Saturday's 8 p.m. title game against No. 3 Bullard at Selland Arena.

The Knights (26-6), seeking their third section championship in program history and their first since 1996, upset No. 2 Bakersfield 65-54 on the road Wednesday.

Clovis West won 5 of 6 D-I crowns from 2001-2006 but none since, and Clovis East has been largely responsible.

The Timberwolves, winners of three of the past four D-I championships, defeated the Eagles for the 2007 and '08 titles at Selland and also blasted Clovis West 65-36 in last year's quarterfinals.

"It's been a few years since we beat them in the playoffs, so this makes it all the more sweet," Eagles nine-year coach Tom Orlich said.

Further, he knew his team was facing difficult odds in an attempt to beat Clovis East a third time this season after a 76-71, 65-61 sweep while winning the Tri-River Athletic Conference.

And it was a frightening finish for the Eagles, down 52-50 with 3:32 remaining and not having a player with the physical ability to defend Kevin Bailey, who will extend his career at Portland.

At 6-5 and equipped with explosive drives and jumping ability, he scored the last of his 26 points on a layup following his own steal, punctuating a 10-0 run for the two-point lead.

But Clovis West proved to be the more composed and balanced team in the final minutes, and Johnson had significant help.

An Eagles' 10-4 sprint to the wire also included 3-pointers by T.J. Jackson and Charlie Thompson, and a fearless driving scoop by sophomore Khaneal Mason for a 58-54 lead with 38 seconds to go.

"No, he wasn't the guy who was supposed to take the shot," Orlich said, "but they laid off him and he put in a big basket."

Antwoun Whitfield's driving bank in traffic reduced the gap to 58-56 with 18.8 seconds remaining, and the T'Wolves just missed an attempt to tie it when a Bailey drive trickled off the rim moments later.

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