BOYS PREP BASKETBALL: Dinuba High starts off strong in new league

Sanger, Immanuel boys in hunt for respective conference titles, Sanger West unbeaten early in second year of varsity ball

Reedley High’s Ryan Velasquez is the Pirates’ lone senior player this season, and is providing leadership for young team off to a 1-2 start through Dec. 2. (Jon Earnest)
Reedley High’s Ryan Velasquez is the Pirates’ lone senior player this season, and is providing leadership for young team off to a 1-2 start through Dec. 2. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published December 4, 2023  • 
11:00 am

DINUBA – The Dinuba High boys basketball team’s first season after its move to the West Yosemite League resulted in a second place tie behind Lemoore High in 2022-23. And their early season play shows that the Emperors are intent at scaling the league’s summit this year.

Dinuba has won five of its first six games, including two of three at the rugged Valley Children’s Tip-Off Classic at Clovis North High School on Nov. 30 through Dec. 2. The Emperors bounced back from their first loss, a 71-56 setback to Birmingham High from Lake Balboa on Nov. 30, to defeat Newark Memorial, 64-41, and Enochs (Modesto), 77-47. 

Senior guard Javier Torres, a returning all-league player, scored 50 points in the three games, including 23 against Newark Memorial. The 6-foot-3 senior guard averaged nearly 16 points per game last season, the top scorer for an Emperors team that went 7-3 in league and 26-5 overall. Other key veteran players are senior forward Brice Watley, junior guard Josiah Ochoa and seniors Noah Gonzalez and Christian Lopez.

The Emperors will host their annual Andrew Bedoya Holiday Classic this week, opening against Immanuel in an 8 p.m. feature game on Wednesday, Dec. 6. Dinuba then plays Hanford West on Dec. 7 and Sunnyside on Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. Championship game of the 13-team tournament is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9.

Here’s a brief look at Mid Valley Times region schools in their respective leagues:

County Metro Athletic Conference

Sanger High won its first four games of the season, including a 75-45 rout of Oakwood (Morgan Hill) in the first round of the Valley Children’s Tip-Off Classic. But the Apaches then lost 82-68 to host and eventual champion Clovis North (3-1) before closing with a 60-45 setback to Birmingham on Dec. 2.

Junior power forward Caleb Ramirez scored 22 points (hitting all nine of his 2-point shot attempts) and pulled down seven rebounds against Clovis North, while senior guard Nolan Willison had 20 points including 6 out of 10 3-point shots.

“We’re graduating six or seven seniors (including leading scorer Caleb Cole), but we’ve got a feeder program that we’ve started and we’re not starting to see some of the rewards. They’re all Sanger kids,” said veteran coach Al Alvarado. “It’s exciting, the kids are working hard and it seems like they get along.”

Willison, a 6-foot-4 wing shooting specialist and senior point guard Kevin Chambers give the Apaches experience in the backcourt along with senior guard Marquis Cropper. Ramirez (6-foot-3) and 6-foot-7 junior Micah Cole (Caleb’s younger brother) provide the team’s inside presence.

Sanger finished 18-11 overall and third place in the CMAC behind champion San Joaquin Memorial and second place Bullard. The Panthers (2-1) have two big wins and a one-point loss to Southern California school Lynwood; the Knights placed second at the Clovis North tourney while Madera High has gotten off to a strong 5-2 start.

Tri-County Conference

Immanuel High (5-1) rebounded from its lone loss of the season (72-69 to Porterville on Dec. 1) to finish third at its own Immanuel Tournament of Champions. The Eagles wiped out a 20-5 first quarter deficit to defeat Sierra Pacific, 58-51, on Dec. 2. Mikah Tolpezninkas scored 19 points while fellow senior Tad Tibbett added 16 points.

Senior guard Tolpezninkas had a game-high 28 points and Tibbett 27 against eventual champion Porterville, but the Panthers (4-1) held on for the victory when a potential 3-point try to tie the game just missed. Tolpezninkas scored 32 points in a win over Fresno High on Nov. 30.

“We want to keep getting better at the things we want to focus on defensively, and offensively we want to learn how to play with good pace but know when we have to execute things,” coach Todd Brown said. “We want to make sure we’re improving, and (that) we’re doing things the right way no matter who we’re playing.”

Reedley High (1-2) dropped its first two games before breaking through with a late 69-66 home win over Mission Oak on Nov. 29. The Pirates got 21 points from freshman shooting guard Ethan Canales and 18 points from junior wing Zeke Curiel.

Second year coach Zeke Lyons said the team will rely on the leadership of senior shooting guard Ryan Velasquez.

“I’m really proud of him. He’s a quiet kid, but a confident kid. And so he’s stepping into more of a leadership role as our only senior,” he said of Velasquez. “I’ve seen a lot of growth out of him, not just on the court but in the locker room.” Lyons also said Canales has “incredible potential.”

Immanuel has been shifted to the Tri-County Sequoia Division, joining Reedley along with Exeter, Central Valley Christian and Washington Union. The Eagles visit the Pirates on Jan. 10, then the teams meet again at Immanuel High on Jan. 25.

North Yosemite League

Sanger West High is quickly showing marked improvement in its second season of varsity competition. After going 2-26, including a winless 0-14 NYL campaign, the Hornets have raced to a 5-0 start including victories over Dos Palos and Tulare Union. 

Sanger West has three players averaging double figures early on in junior guard Vayshawn Turner, freshman guard-forward Karon Parks and senior center-forward Angad Doad. Right before league play begins, the Hornets will play Mendota in a 9:30 a.m. contest Saturday, Jan. 6 during the Central Valley Showcase at Sanger High School.

Sequoia Division Schools

Orange Cove High (3-4) and Orosi High (2-3) are grouped in the East Sequoia League Redwood Division with Farmerville, Summit Charter Collegiate Academy and Wonderful College Prep. The Titans went 1-3 at the recent Immanuel Tournament of Champions, getting strong scoring accomplishments from guard DIego Sanchez and forward Alexis Beltran.

The Cardinals dropped their opening three games before scoring wins over Parlier and Summit Charter, the latter a 66-63 victory on Dec. 2. Sophomore Ramiro Garcia, senior Bryant Gomez and junior John Martinez all provided scoring punch for the team.

Parlier High (1-5) has dropped early season games to Orange Cove, Sanger West and Orosi, but finally cracked the win column with a 58-12 rout of Farmersille at the Parlier tournament on Dec. 2. The Panthers feature five seniors including center-forward Alexis Garcia.

Jon Earnest