Sanger catches fire late, wins Clovis Elks title

Most Valuable Player Willison hits trio of 3-pointers down the stretch as Apaches rally to defeat Clovis in championship game 56-51

Sanger High’s Marquis Cropper shoots during the first half of the Apaches’ 56-51 comeback victory over Clovis High in the finals of the Clovis Elks Classic on Dec. 30. The senior was named to the all-tournament team. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published January 2, 2024  • 
1:00 pm

CLOVIS – After many years of coming close, the Sanger High Apaches finally were able to break through and capture the championship of the Clovis Elks Classic basketball tournament.

Led by the hot outside shooting of tournament Most Valuable Player Nolan Willison along with scoring and rebounding efforts from all-tourney picks Caleb Ramirez and Marquis Cropper, the Apaches (11-5) erupted for 26 points in the final quarter to claw from behind for a 56-51 triumph over host Clovis High before a loud near-capacity crowd at CHS gym on Dec. 30.

Veteran Sanger coach Al Alvarado has won a Holiday Invitational Tournament as a player, but said capturing the Clovis Elks title is special. This was the Apaches’ first title after finishing second twice during the coach’s tenure.

“I’ve wanted to win this tournament for a long time,” he said. “We wanted to get to a position to hopefully get that ball to go into the net. We knew this last game was going to be a nail-biter. I knew it was going to be a battle, we were just trying to stay the course and get our run going.”

The run came midway through the fourth, when Sanger wiped out a 10-point deficit with a game-ending 26-11 run. Senior wing-forward Willison was the main weapon, draining three straight 3-point baskets to put the Apaches ahead to stay. Jordan Pena added another trey, and after grabbing the lead, Sanger held on with important free throws.

“I just keep shooting, I practice the reps,” Willison said. “I’ve got a green light, so they just tell me to keep shooting. If I keep missing, keep shooting.”

“Nolan’s a great shooter, he’s super competitive,” Alvarado said. “Sometimes I’ve just got to get him to calm down, breathe, and then let’s go again. He’s a big-time player for us, a great shooter and just a great scorer.”

Senior forward Ramirez kept Sanger in the game during second and third quarter struggles. He hit seven of eight shots in the paint to finish with a team-high 15 points and six rebounds. Senior Cropper contributed in a number of ways, scoring 10 points while grabbing six rebounds and dishing off six assists.

“I thought that we were going to be good,” Cropper said. “During Christmas break it’s been a little rough, but we pulled through. We’re a strong team and we’re finally playing to our full potential. We were playing together since we were 3 or 4 years old. So this is special, winning our first championship this year, and (there’s) no one else I’d love to be with than these guys.”

Point guard Kevin Chambers shook off the effects of a bloodied nose that sidelined him for part of the second quarter. He finished with a team-high eight assists, seven points and two steals. Junior forward Micah Cole had eight points and six rebounds, while 6-foot-9 post player Jackson Scarborough had a game-high 17 points and seven rebounds for Clovis (10-8).

Sanger reached the finals with a 57-49 win over Buchanan on Dec. 29, as Ramirez scored 19 points and hauled down five rebounds while Willison added 15 points including 5 for 9 from 3-point range.

The Apaches and Clovis play again on Wednesday, Jan. 3 in a 6:30 p.m. tipoff of SHS Dean Nicholson Gym. Sanger then hosts Clovis East at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6, before opening the County Metro Athletic Conference season at Bullard High on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Jon Earnest