Fresno, CA – The Central Section Basketball Championships returned to Selland Area in Fresno for the first time since the 2019-2020 season, as the Covid pandemic moved these games to the site of the higher-seeded team the past two seasons. The best part of this format is that all 12 championship games, Divisions 1-6 for boys and girls, are played on one court in the Selland Arena facility. This makes it ideal for viewing, as media and scouts had to pick and choose which games to attend the past few seasons and some championship games received little to no coverage.
The two-day event began on February 24th and wrapped up on February 25th, with boys and girls Divisions 2, 4, and 6 on Friday and boys and girls Divisions 1, 3, and 5 on Saturday. Championship weekend was capped off with a rematch of last year’s Open Division Championship game, which featured an improbable 20-point comeback and win by Clovis West of Fresno over St. Joseph of Santa Maria. The Central Section did away with the 4-team Open Division this year, after a 3-year experiment, so Division 1 would be the top division for both boys and girls for the 2022-2023 season.
This article breaks down a majority of the boys and girls championship games, as well as provides the final scores and players of the game from each division. I kept stats for the boys and girls games for Divisions 1 through 4 but was not in person for Divisions 5 and 6. I begin with the boys Division 1 Championship game between the #1 seed Clovis West Golden Eagles (entering with a record of 29-2) and the #3 seed St. Joseph Knights (entering with a record of 25-6).
This was the match-up that many wanted to see throughout the Section, as Clovis West had been the #1 ranked team according to MaxPreps a majority of the season, but those of us that do team rankings in the Section unanimously had the Knights as the top team all year long. What made this game even more appealing was the extreme contrast in styles of play. The Knights had the edge in size, physicality, and more next-level prospects, which is anchored by top 25 national prospect sophomore Tounde Yessoufou. The Golden Eagles had the advantage in depth, court speed, relentless on-ball pressure, and the confidence of beating the Knights the previous year for the Open Division crown.
Boys Division 1: St. Joseph 74 Clovis West 58
St. Joseph went to work around the basket early and was able to score with relative ease, as well as control the boards. Clovis West’s style of play worked for them in the first quarter as well, with Jackson Young and Cooper Villi knocking down a couple of threes off the dribble penetration and kick-out passes that are the staple of the Golden Eagle offensive system. The game was tied at 14 a piece as the buzzer sounded to end the first quarter of play.
Yessoufou got it going a bit in the 2nd quarter, as he would score 7 of his 16 points in that frame but Tulane football commit Darian Mensah added 6 off the bench that gave the Knights the punch it needed to take a 13-point lead into half, 36-23. Conversely, the size and length of the Knights clogged up passing lanes and forced tough shots that led to the Golden Eagles only scoring 9 points in the 2nd quarter. However, Clovis West faced a much larger deficit at half the year before and responded with one of the most impressive comeback wins I have ever seen in person, which had to give the players and staff confidence coming out in the third quarter.
Marshel Sanders of Clovis West was definitely not phased by the halftime deficit, as he would erupt for 13 of his game-high 22 points in the 3rd quarter and could not be stopped attacking the basket. Despite Sanders best efforts, the Knights continued to get big contributions from multiple players. Freshman Julius Price had 7 of his 16 points in the quarter, but the difference maker in the game was 6’9” senior Caedin Hamilton who had 6 of his 14 points in the third and was absolutely destroying the Golden Eagles on the glass and limiting Clovis West to single shot possessions all game. St. Joseph held its 13-point lead going into the fourth by a score of 56-43. Sanders continued to apply pressure on the Knights but it was senior Luis Marin of St. Joseph that was huge in the final frame, as he scored 10 of his team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter. Mensah and Price added four points each and the Knights would avenge its loss from the previous year to the Golden Eagles by a score of 74-58.
Hamilton was named player of the game for St. Joseph, as he had 14 points and a monster 18 rebounds while Sanders was player of the game for Clovis West with 22 points and 3 steals. Other notable stat lines for each team were as follows:
St. Joseph – Luis Marin with 18 points, Tounde Yessoufou and Julius Price both with 16 points, and Darian Mensah had 10 points.
Clovis West – Jackson Young with 12 points connecting on 4 threes, and Issac Martinez had 8 points.
Girls Division 1: Clovis West 54 Clovis 42
The Lady Golden Eagles entered the playoffs ranked #14 in the nation according to MaxPreps and #4 in California, as it entered the championship game with a record of 29-1. The only loss of the season came at the hands of the Lady Cougars from Clovis, who it split wins within league play and were co-TRAC League Champions. Clovis entered the championship with a record of 25-5 and was one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the Section. The Lady Golden Eagles had five players score in the opening quarter, but the Lady Cougars got a boost at the free throw line with Sadie Sin going 4 of 4, as Clovis West led by a score of 11-8 after one.
The Lady Golden Eagles got a big 7 points from Trinity Tolbert in the 2nd quarter, but the Lady Cougars got scoring contributions from 5 players with a couple of threes to keep within striking distance. Clovis West led by nine at intermission, with a score of 29-20.
Athena Tomlinson of Clovis West would get it going in the second half, as she would score 11 of her game-high 14 points. The defensive intensity of the Lady Golden Eagles made it tough for the Lady Cougars to get open looks from the perimeter, as Clovis West would wear down Clovis and earn its 11th straight Section Title.
Athena Tomlinson was named player of the game with 14 points for Clovis West while Alyssa Kem was player of the game for Clovis with 10 points. Tolbert added 14 points for the Lady Golden Eagles and Devin Miller had 10 points for the Lady Cougars.
Boys Division 2: Arroyo Grande 59 Porterville 30
The first half of the boys D2 championship game was close, as Andrew Moody of the Panthers had 9 of his team-high 11 points in the 2nd quarter. Adam Silmon provided the scoring punch for the Eagles, as he scored 11 of his game-high 17 points before intermission. Arroyo Grande took a slight lead into the locker room, with a score of 26-22.
The 2nd half was another story, as Zach Soriano scored 13 of his 15 points after the break and the Eagles started to knock down shots. Arroyo Grande’s ball movement and dominance on the glass, combined with swarming defense, blew open the doors for the Eagles.
Adam Silmon was named player of the game for Arroyo Grande with 17 points and Andrew Moody was player of the game for Porterville with 11 points.
Girls Division 2: Liberty of Bakersfield 58 Tehachapi 51
The girls D2 championship game was one of the best games of the event and featured a lot of talent on both sides. The Lady Warriors’ Riley Walden came out on fire, scoring 9 points in the opening frame to give Tehachapi a 17-14 lead. Faith Curry of the Lady Pats got it going in the 2nd quarter, as she would score 10 of her team-high 18 points and was a force on the boards. Tehachapi struggle to score and control the ball, which gave Liberty a 31-24 lead going into the locker.
Emma Fredrick of the Lady Pats scored 6 of her 13 points in the third quarter and was active on the glass to help push the lead to 9 going into the final frame. Walden turned it up another level in the fourth quarter and scored 11 of her game-high 22 points to get the game within a single possession with less than 3 minutes left in regulation. Kaylee Batton had 5 of her 13 points in the fourth quarter, along with Curry and Fredrick adding four a piece to help the Lady Pats edge out the Lady Warriors by a score of 58-51.
Faith Curry was named players of the game for Liberty with 18 points and 12 rebounds and Riley Walden was player of the game for Tehachapi with 22 points and 4 steals.
Boys Division 3: Kingsburg 63 Sierra 43
Kingsburg had one of the toughest roads to Selland, as it had to travel to Bakersfield 3 times and earned wins over #6 North Bakersfield, #3 South Bakersfield, and the #2 Independence. The Vikings would have to knock off the top seed in Sierra of Tollhouse if it wanted to win another Section title. The Chieftains have been led all season by standout junior Logan Kilbert but it would need more contributions in order to take down one of the hottest teams entering championship play at Selland.
The first half was a close one, as the Vikings were led by Connor McFall with 10 of his 12 points coming before intermission along with a pair of threes from Noah Brown. Sierra got key contributions from Kilbert with 9 points and Nathan Kempen with 11 points but trailed by a score of 29-22 at the end of the 2nd quarter.
The 2nd half was a different story, as the Vikings took control and would get additional contributions from Chris Browe and freshman Jensen Hirschkorn with 11 points and 7 points respectively after the break. Kingsburg controlled the boards and locked in on defense, forcing Sierra into shooting a lot of threes that did not convert. The Vikings ran away with the Section title by a score of 63-43.
Connor McFall was player of the game for Kingsburg with 12 points and 4 assists, while Logan Kilbert was player of the game for Sierra with 16 points and 7 rebounds.
Girls Division 3: Bakersfield Christian 57 Porterville 45
The Lady Eagles jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter behind the strong play of Sara Shein, who scored 9 of her game-high 22 points to give Bakersfield Christian a 17-6 lead over the Panthers. The foul count for the Lady Eagles soared in the 2nd quarter, as the Lady Panthers would score 9 of its 11 points from the free throw line and pull to within seven at intermission, 24-17.
The third quarter was much of the same, as the Lady Panthers scored 8 of its 14 points from the line but Bakersfield Christian got a spark from Ava King and Alexis Bila with 6 points and 4 points respectively that pushed the lead to 10 at the end of the 3rd quarter, 41-31.
The Lady Panthers got significant contributions from Ryleigh Schoonover and Andrea Perez with 6 points and 8 points respectively, but Shein and Jordyn Toler were too much and the Lady Eagles earned its first-ever program Section title by a score of 57-45.
Jordyn Toler was player of the game for Bakersfield Christian with 16 points and 4 steals, while Ryleigh Schoonover was named player of the game for the Panthers with 12 points and 17 rebounds.
Boys Division 4: Tulare Western 60 Kerman 40
After taking a small 6-point lead into half, the Mustangs took over in the 2nd half behind the play of brothers Malachi Ficher and Carmine Ficher.
Malachi Ficher was named player of the game for Tulare Western with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks, while Kam’Ron Stinson was player of the game for Kerman with 18 points.
Girls Division 4: Lompoc 32 Tulare Union 31
Kylee Garcia was player of the game for Lompoc with 9 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals, while Darleth Felix was player of the game for Tulare Union with 8 points and 6 rebounds.
Boys Division 5: Madera South 71 McFarland 64
Girls Division 5: Reedley 54 Arvin 44
Raquel Cortez was player of the game for Reedley and Roxana Fernandez was player of the game for Arvin.
Boys Division 6: Taft 43 Highland 41
Ernie Laulu was player of the game for Taft and Lance Haworth was player of the game for Highland.
Girls Division 6: Lindsay 53 Matilda Torres 37