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Tough preseason schedule continues for Centennial in loss to Clovis West

The immediate payoff may not have been what Centennial was shooting for, but Wednesday afternoon’s 82-66 loss to visiting Clovis West figures to benefit the Golden Hawks in the long run.

At least that’s what second-year Centennial boys basketball coach Stephon Carter is hoping.

Consider it a long-term investment, forged by a tough preseason schedule that has already included two of the Central Section's top teams in Clovis West and Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial, with a top-tier tournament in Pasadena looming — all in the first two two weeks of the season.

“We’re scheduling these games as testing games,” Carter said. “We’re trying to see where we’re at in the pecking order with the top teams in the Valley, and that’s the whole thing right now.”

On the heels of last week’s 25-point loss to Memorial, ranked 15th in the state by CalHi Sports, the Golden Hawks’ obstacle on Wednesday presented a new challenge with the Golden Eagles and their signature full-court press.

“Coming into the game, we knew Clovis West’s pressure was second to none,” said Carter of the Golden Eagles, who opened their season with a 13-point victory over Independence on Tuesday. “Our game plan was to not turn the ball over, be patient, pump fake, give the right pass and we should get what we want. But when we came out tonight, their pressure kind of hit us.”

Centennial (1-2), which hosts undefeated Golden Valley (4-0) on Saturday, survived an 11-0 run by Clovis West to open the second half and managed to stay close through three quarters.

But turnovers began to mount as the game progressed, and the Golden Eagles began to pull away with a steady dose of pressure and junior point guard Isaac Martinez.

“I don’t know how many turnovers we had, but I know we had at least 25 turnovers,” Carter said. “And that was based off their pressure. And they scored a lot off our turnovers, which hurt us a lot.”

Martinez finished with a game-high 29 points and was at his best in the third quarter when Clovis West (2-0) began to take control of the game.

The 5-foot-11 guard had 12 points in the quarter with a variety of points off steals, nifty drives to the basket and a few well-timed 3-pointers that kept Centennial at a distance.

Centennial turnovers led to a 13-4 spurt for Clovis West in the fourth quarter, capped by back-to-back 3-pointers that built the Golden Eagles’ lead to 79-57, the largest of the game.

“I think we just kind of ran out of gas,” Carter said. “We had our runs, even in the third quarter, and then we had back-to-back turnovers. To win these types of games, we have to get a run, but we also have to stop them. To get over that hump and that barrier we have to get some stops. And I feel like the times when we got a run going and got some scores, we didn’t get enough stops to limit them and get back into the game.”

The game featured several momentum shifts through much of the first 24 minutes of play.

The Golden Hawks led 16-15 at the end of the first quarter, and closed the half with seven straight points, highlighted when sophomore Rippen Gill sank a desperation shot just inside the half-court line to beat the buzzer and pull his team to within 39-37 at the break.

Clovis West’s full-court pressure, and trapping defense paid dividends early and often in the second half, leading to several layups and short baskets off penetration.

The Golden Eagles extended their lead to 50-37 just 3 minutes into the third quarter on five straight points by Isaac Martinez. Martinez was a thorn in Centennial’s side all afternoon.

The Golden Hawks stayed close with a 12-4 run of their own, and trailed just 54-49 when Gill banked in a 3-pointer with 2:40 left in the third quarter. Gill finished with a team-high 16 points, with teammate Elijah West adding 12, with three 3-pointers. Sophomore Jaxton Santiago had 11 and Malachi Hogg-Madden 10 points.

But Clovis West scored nine of the next 11 points, keyed by a Martinez steal and assist to 6-8 Tyus Parrish-Tillman, a three-point play by Michael Espinoza and a 3-pointer by Martinez to build the lead back 13 heading into the final stanza.

The Golden Eagles’ controlled the inside with Parrish-Tillman, who had 11 points, and also received strong contributions from sophomore Marshel Sanders and junior Trey Carr, who had 10 points apiece.

“I’m just getting the boys ready,” Carter said. “We’re trying to get as prepared as possible just to get ready for league play and see where we’re at in Valley. It’s tough to lose though, but it’s still a learning curve for us.”