Fresno, CA – Friday night, December 8th, Clovis West hosted the semifinals to its annual Nike Invitational Tournament, which featured a big time match-up between two Central Section powers in host team Clovis West Golden Eagles and San Joaquin Memorial Panthers in the first semifinal game. The second semifinal game was between preseason Central Section top 5 Bakersfield Christian Eagles and one of the top NorCal teams in Inderkum Tigers. There were two other games that took place before the semifinals starting with the Bullard Knights and Hoover Patriots, followed by the Clovis Cougars and Granite Bay Grizzlies. The 3rd place games, determined by the outcomes of pool play, were held in the old gym (East Gym) and I was not in person to see those games, as they overlapped with the games in the main gym. 

The first semifinal game was a high anticipated rivalry game between two of the Section’s powerhouses, in preseason top seed Clovis West and my preseason #5 San Joaquin Memorial. The Golden Eagles return a majority of its roster from last season and have added forward/center Chris Baudreau to make for a more complete and versatile roster that can throw various looks at its opponents. The Panthers graduated its top two players that led San Joaquin to a D2 State Championship last season, and have a younger roster this season with lots of talent and size. 

Clovis West was active on the defensive end early and turned turnovers into easy transition points. The Golden Eagles would get scoring contributions from 8 different players in the opening frame to give it a 25 to 14 point lead going into the second quarter. Despite only scoring on one basket in the first quarter, it was the overall two-way play of standout junior DJ Stickman that led the charge early. 

The Panthers struggled to put points on the board in the first half, as it would trail by a score of 39 to 27 going into the break. The Golden Eagles got a solid output from junior Chris Baudreau, who scored 6 of his team-high 20 points in the 2nd quarter. Sophomore Jace Kellogg scored all 8 of his points in the first half to lead Clovis West in scoring. It looked as though this game may get out of hand, but the Panthers came out catching fire in the 3rd quarter to close the gap to a five point deficit, 60 to 55 at the end of the third quarter. 

Specifically, it was the scoring prowess of junior guard Abram Potts, who would dazzle with some tough shot making from the perimeter off the dribble, scoring 13 of his game-high 23 points in the 3rd quarter. Sophomore Sajjin Sidhu would chip in a pair of threes to assist in closing the gap between the Panthers and the Golden Eagles. Seniors Zach Chauhan and Jackson Young each scored six points, along with another 7 points from Baudrea to keep the Golden Eagles in the lead, but the final frame was set for an exciting finish.  

The Panthers would get to within two at the 6:30 mark in the final frame, but the Golden Eagles would get the lead back to eight, 69 to 61, with less than five minutes left to play. Baudreau and Chauhan scored six a piece in the fourth quarter, along with the insane stat line from Stickman, who would finish with 10 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals, proving to be too much for the Panthers down the stretch. Clovis West would win the game by a score of 81 to 67 and earned a spot in the championship game set for tonight at the Eagles’ Nest. Chauhan finished with 16 points and Baudreau had 4 blocks and altered countless shots as the anchor of the defense. Sindhu would finish with 13 points, along with 9 points and 6 assists for junior Julius Olanrewaju

The second semifinal game was between my preseason #4 ranked team in Bakersfield Christian against the long, lengthy, and athletic Inderkum of Sacramento. The Eagles came out on fire behind the 10-point opening quarter from senior Bentley Waller and 8 points from junior Gabe Gutierrez to take a 21 to 17 lead into the 2nd quarter. 

The Tigers would counter in the second quarter, as senior Shaine Johnson would connect on a pair of threes in the quarter and standout junior Taylen Goodman would score 11 points in the half to give Inderkum the 40 to 32 lead at intermission. 

Waller would heat up again in the 3rd quarter, as he scored 10 of his team-high 25 points before fouling out early in the fourth quarter. Senior Troy Lei also poured in 7 of his 12 points in the 3rd quarter, but Goodman kept upping his scoring total with 12 of his game-high 31 points in the third to give his squad the 60 to 53 lead heading into the 4th. 

Goodman put up 8 more points in the final frame, and the length and size of the Johnson twins (Malachi and Malik), and 10 points from freshman Siincere Hudson, kept the lead at a comfortable distance, despite a valiant effort from Gutierrez in the fourth quarter scoring 10 of his team-high 25 points to keep things interesting. Inderkum would edge out the Eagles 84 to 76 to earn a spot in the championship game against the host team Clovis West, set for tonight at 7:00 p.m.

The other two games before the semifinals had implications for Central Section hoops. Granite Bay was lights out from the 3-point line, as it would connect on 17 threes led by Davis Abell with 29 points on 7 threes and Tanner Lawrence with 14 points connecting on 4 threes. Clovis got a great game from senior guard Dilibe Allison, who finished with a team-high 22 points, but the advantage in the made 3-pointers category would prove too much for the Cougars, as the Grizzlies would win 71 to 66. 

The first game I watched was between two Fresno-based teams, Bullard and Hoover. The Patriots kept it close early behind the interior play of sophomore Michael Harris, who scored all of his 11 points in the first half. Despite the valiant effort early by Hoover, the Knights had too much firepower. Seniors Jaleel Jackson and Kyshawn Johnson were impressive with 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, and 13 points and 7 blocks respectively. Senior Sam Allen added 13 points for the Knights and freshman Pamir Olivier would lead the Pats with 16 but a bulk of those points came at the end when the game was out of reach. The Knights would win 77 to 50.