Big second half powers Sanger boys at Clovis Elks Classic

Apaches parlay clutch outside shooting, defense to put away Merced and earn quarterfinal matchup against Roosevelt

Sanger High’s Marquis Cropper sprints toward the basket after beating Merced High’s Jaylen McCormick (10) to the loose ball during the second half of the Apaches’ 56-41 victory over the Bears in the opening round of the Clovis Elks Classic on Dec. 27. The senior guard finished with 12 points and six steals. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published December 28, 2023  • 
11:00 am

CLOVIS – Al Alvarado is using the annual Clovis Elks Classic basketball tournament to get his Sanger High team ready for bigger challenges later in the season.

Working on their defensive and execution fundamentals, the Apaches (8-5) gradually built a lead and turned away a brief third quarter rally by Merced High to collect a 56-41 victory over the Bears in a first round matchup Wednesday, Dec. 27 afternoon at Clovis High School. Sanger next plays at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 28 in the CHS South (main) Gym against Roosevelt, a 59-35 winner over Atwater High on Dec. 27.

“I want some of our bigger main guys, our seniors, to give us more. We’re trying to shake it up early in the preseason so we can be ready for league,” veteran coach Alvarado said of his Sanger team that has the tournament plus games with Clovis schools ahead of County Metro Athletic Conference play. 

He added, “It was good, the kids played hard and I knew Merced was going to be a challenge because they work hard and are real scrappy.”

The Apaches worked on their halfcourt game and defensive intensity, slapping on stretches of full-court pressure while leading throughout most of the final three quarters. The senior trio of Marquis Cropper (12 points, six steals), Nolan Willison (11 points) and Kevin Chambers (nine points, five assists) turned in generally solid performances.

Sanger also flexed its inside play muscles with junior power forwards Micah Cole (game-high 14 points, five rebounds) and Caleb Ramirez (eight points, six rebounds), Cole also showed some outside shooting skills by sinking a pair of 3-point baskets.

Cole was the early scoring presence to start the game, collecting six points while Cropper and Chambers added four points apiece for an 18-11 advantage after the opening eight minutes, and a late spurt by the Apaches fueled by their defense opened the lead to 30-19 at the halftime break.

Merced (6-7) made a push early in the third, slicing the deficit to seven points and then five points late in the quarter. But Chambers drained a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to make it 42-34 after three. Ramirez then opened the final quarter with an inside basket, and Sanger led by double figures for almost all the remainder of the game.

The Apaches closed out with a flourish, with Willison and Cropper finishing off full shot possessions with long 3-pointers to lead to the final 15-point cushion. The veteran players accounted for 54 of the team’s 56 points.

Senior guard Roman Buendia paced Merced with eight points while Jordan Thomas and Jayden McCormick added seven points apiece.

“Everybody has a role to play, and that’s what we’re trying to get back to,” Alvarado said, noting that the team also has dealt with some holiday illnesses and family vacation time during the break from school. “Hopefully we’ll get back to the normal stuff at the end of the tournament.”

A win Thursday would advance Sanger to play the winner of Buchanan (11-2) and Pleasant Grove (5-6) quarterfinal on Friday, Dec. 29 at 6 p.m. The championship game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 30 at 7:30 p.m.

Jon Earnest