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Storylines upon storylines; Clovis East and Bullard battle for boys D-I title

Both schools are coming off exciting semifinals wins on the road to meet for D-I supremacy. Timberwolves seeking first title since 2010, Knights since 2013.

Clovis East will need senior Jermal Pittman to have a great game when they meet Bullard for the D-I Central Section title on Friday at 8:00 at Selland Arena. (PHOTO BY CHRIS LOUIS PHOTOGRAPHY)

FRESNO — There’s certainly no lack of storylines when Clovis East and Bullard meet Friday night at 8:00 p.m. for the D-I title at Selland Arena. In one corner there’s Bullard, a team that has overcome adversity and found chemistry at the right time in a year no one expected them to return to the finals. In the other corner is Clovis East, a team with a trio of players who have dreamed of this moment since they were Timberwolves ball boys in fourth grade, on track to win the school’s first title since 2010.

Bullard, the 4-seed coming in at 18-13, is defying the odds. All the young Knights did on Tuesday was drive down and beat the top-seed Bakersfield Drillers 60-54 in a hostile gym, making that drive back down 99 a sweet experience. This is the third straight year the Knights have reached the D-I title game, the two previous ending in heartbreak including last year’s overtime thriller to Clovis West. This year, Bullard is less talented than the last two teams – coach Tim Amundsen readily admits this – but the chemistry has never been tighter, peaking at the most perfect time. After losing at San Joaquin Memorial 68-53 on Jan. 21 followed by a 78-60 loss at Sanger, the Knights have won six of eight with a hungry group that believes.

Bullard doesn’t have the size this season compared to last – their tallest player 6-foot-7 Justin Parks left the team in December – but the team has stepped up and picked up the scoring and rebounding with grit and attitude. They are playing with a purpose. While these young dudes are playing with house money – only one player on the roster played in a playoff game before this year – they are hungry enough to know opportunities like this doesn’t come every year.

Omarion Thomas-Marshall, a junior, and sophomore guard Tyric Herod will be counted on immensely on both ends of the floor; both can carry the scoring load. Herod scored 29 points in the Knight’s 68-48 playoff win over Buchanan and then poured in 30 at Bakersfield. Freshman Cameron Schneider is getting major playing time and his athleticism and motor is advanced for his age. Coaches love him.

And get this – the last section title for Clovis East was in 2010 when, yep, Tim Amundsen was the coach. Bullard’s last title was in 2013 when Tony Amundsen, Tim’s brother, was the head coach. You couldn’t make that up.

For Clovis East, they felt slighted when they received the No. 3 seed and they certainly had a right to. They split with Clovis West, the top seed the Open Division, and took No. 2 Clovis North to overtime on the road before losing. They could very easily been chosen for the Open if not for suffering 10 losses on the season. Like Bullard, and despite some hiccups along the way, the Timberwolves are playing excellent basketball coming into the finals, evidenced by the 97-78 whooping they put on No. 2 St. Joseph in the semifinals. Coach Adrian Wiggins and a special trio of seniors are focused, locked and loaded, 32 minutes from their ultimate goal.

The 20-10 Timberwolves are led by seniors Jermal Pittman, Will Wiggins and Tyler Pacheco, none over six feet tall. All play their roles perfectly – Pittman is a slasher who can also hit the 3-ball to the tune of 23 points per game, Wiggins, the coach’s son, is a crafty ball-handler who’s deadly in the paint, and Pacheco is a threat from beyond the arc. Sophomore Camden Thompson can hit from anywhere on the court and Tommy Newton can get a bucket at any time. These guys know how to win.

Clovis East will spread five offensive players on the court with a number of shooters looking for threes, back-door layups and lanes to drive. With pressure man-to-man defense they can turn turnovers into points in a flash, especially with the ball in Wiggins hands and Pittman on the receiving end. They lack height and a rim protector but so does Bullard, creating a most intriguing matchup. The Timberwolves will try and contain Tomas-Marshall and Herod, forcing other less-experienced Knights to make plays. In addition, both coaches are top tier, two of the best in the Central Section. The chess chess match between the two will be fun to watch; they both want this one terribly.

The verdict? Clovis East’s experience and execution on both ends of the floor prove too much for young but gritty Bullard: Timberwolves 64 Knights 57.

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