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Eagles return to Selland Arena, bring home championship

Bella Johns | The Feather Online

Sophomore Orion Tomlinson, center, led his team to its first Valley championship since 2012 with a win over Fowler, 76-73, Feb. 28. 

At the sound of the final buzzer, the student section erupted. The wait was finally over. Though it took nearly two hours of game play, the basketball team brought home a CIF Central Section Division V Valley championship, Feb. 28.

The Eagles are no stranger to the Selland Arena hardwood. The last time Fresno Christian played downtown was 2016, when they fell short to Kern Valley, 57-54. It was a different story when the Eagles headed into Selland, taking on the No. 1 seeded Kern Valley as an underdog, seeded at No. 14.

This year the squad took the division by storm, heading into the playoff picture, the boys were ranked No. 2. Awaiting their Valley championship dreams was No. 1 Fowler.

The last time FC touched Valley championship gold was back on March 2, 2012, when the squad took down Laton, 60-40, to seal their back-to-back championships.

With a final score of 76-73, the campus squad defeated Fowler in 2OT to bring home their first championship since 2012.

The Eagles finished the year with an overall record of 26-6 and an East Sierra League record of 10-0. Through a playoff run that included routs of Dos Palos and Bishop Union, FC followed them up by a 13-point victory over Parlier in the semifinals. This victory marked the team’s first trip back to the championship game at Selland Arena since 2016.

The following video features clips and highlights from the CIF Central Section Division V Valley championship by senior videographer Braden Bell, Feb. 28.

Eagles win at Selland from The Feather Online on Vimeo.

Through the first half, the Eagles tied up the Redcats at 27 and entered the second half with hopes of improving their turnover ratio. With minutes left in the third quarter, the squad went down nine and needed a comeback. By the start of the next quarter, they cut the deficit down to four.

With 10 seconds left in the game, the Eagles gained possession of the ball, down by two. After a timeout with 4.7 seconds left, coach John Penberthy called a play they hadn’t run in a game all season. The team executed the play as senior Ty Coffman lobbed the ball to junior Carston Saelzler who scored and was fouled to go up one with seconds left.

Thank you to Fresno Sports Magazine for capturing this thrilling moment! Make sure to check out their Twitter, @FresnoSportsMag

Assistant coach Nick LeBlanc sent Penberthy the play after Florida State ran it against Duke in the Sweet 16 this past year. The team practiced the play over the summer with the goal of saving it for when the opportunity presented itself.

“Nick LeBlanc sent it to me in March of last year after Florida State ran it against Duke in the Sweet 16,” coach Penberthy said. “That’s when the wheels started turning on that play and we called it uno, because we had one shot at this, that was kind of our idea behind it. We ran it all summer and had mild success to say the least, we didn’t want to show it. You just don’t want to run it too soon because then they have film on it.”

“We figured that Tyus would probably get double teamed, which he did,” Penberthy continued. “Then, we just have Bryson and Orion break out to the three-point line to open up that middle and it kind of just fell perfectly. I told (Ty Coffman) just put it up there and Carston will go get it. Did I think he was going to do the alley-oop? Not really. I thought it would be more of a jump up and get it. But, he went up, got the alley-oop and was fouled.”

Bri Mellon of ABC30 news was in attendance and ready for the overtime period. The following tweet showcases the team’s taking the court for the next OT.

Following Saelzler’s heroics, on the ensuing Fowler possession, the refs called a shooting foul on a three-point attempt at the buzzer. Down by one, Fowler needed to make two free throws to win the title. After junior Mitchell Uriarte made the first free throw, he proceeded to miss the next two to send the game to the first overtime with the score tied, 55-55.

During the free throws, Bryson Graham, ’21, was nervous due to the consistency of Fowler’s shots in the game. After the misses, Graham felt confident in the Eagles’ ability to win.

“I was shocked because they had been on point with their free throws all game,” Graham said. “So I was pretty confident they were gonna pull it off, but when they didn’t, we just realized this is now anyone’s game and we had to take advantage of this incredible opportunity.”

We are the champions, my friends

Avery Jones | The Feather Online

Fresno Christian boys basketball team pose with Valley Championship plaque, gold medals and hats, after thrilling win over Fowler in double OT, Feb. 28.

Through the first overtime period, the score remained tied, 61-61. On the Eagle’s next possession, the team passed the ball out to Graham at the three-point line with less than 10 seconds left. He put the shot up and scored to put the squad up by three.

Coach Penberthy recognized this shot as an immediate confidence booster for Graham. He realized in the moment that this event would be the talking point from the game.

“For Bryson, it was awesome to see because we keep telling them that nobody’s going to remember the first 10 shots you took,” Penberthy said. “Whether you go 0 for 10 or 10 for 10, they’re only going to remember your last one.”

This is coach Penberthy’s first Valley championship in seven years, in his second trip to Selland Arena and mentioned his philosophy both for himself and to Graham.

“You only care about the one that matters,” Penberthy said, “and so for his confidence booster, it was like a big thank you. No one’s going to remember that you missed and you couldn’t buy a bucket. Seeing that ball drop in was kind of like, that’s all people are going to talk about.”

In the following tweet, Feather senior reporter Richie Cortez catches up to and interviews junior Carston Saelzler post-game.

On the next inbound pass, Fowler passed the ball down court in an attempt to get a last second buzzer beater to tie the game. The Fowler ball handler found a man in the corner for a last second three-pointer. At the sound of the buzzer, the ball sank in and forced a second overtime.

Saelzler said he felt motivated after the shot fell and recognized the opportunity to be a part of something truly special. Saelzler also realized that this was the team’s chance to win a Valley championship and it required everything he had left.

“After that shot fell that forced overtime,” Saelzler said. “I was thinking in my head, ‘OK Fowler, you want some more, let’s run it back.’ I just had to keep that mindset of intensity and want to win. This was it so I had to leave it all out there. I knew that if we kept up the intensity in overtime and scored some buckets, we would win it.”

To open up the second overtime period, the Eagles took the ball down the court and found an open Graham at the three point line. Graham put his second clutch basket in the hole to put his team up by three and momentum they would not relinquish.

Nick “The Pagmeter” Papagni was the spotter for Paul Loeffler of 940 ESPN who called the game and witnessed the championship celebrations courtside.

The 6th man

With buses of students filling up the student section, Eagles fans showed up and showered the arena in cheers and chants. Saelzler appreciates the support of his school and looks forward to showing everyone the team’s potential next season.

“The student section was amazing,” Saelzler said. “I was so proud of our student body showing up to represent FC. They were loud and really supportive. I would like to thank all the students who showed up and tell them to get ready for next year because it’s going to be a good one.”

Bella Johns | The Feather Online

Andrew Moore, ’21, rally’s the crowd in an intense finish between the Eagles and Redcats.

The ability to play in a championship game surrounded by noise increased the experience for Graham. He relished in the opportunity that presented itself and enjoyed representing the team to all of Fresno.

“It was really cool just to see the whole school there,” Graham said. “Backing up our entire team and representing us really well to all of Fresno and they just really showed up.”

Graham, normally the Eagles clutch three-point shooter, only shot 23 percent from beyond the arc against the Redcats. Still coming up big for his team, Graham finished with 11 points and three steals.

“It was fun to hear them cheer the entire game because they never stopped,” Graham said. “It was a lot of fun, you guys played a huge part, we couldn’t have done it without you guys, thank you.”

Even when someone isn’t feeling hot that night, chemistry is what the boys have relied on this season. According to Maxpreps, sophomore Tyus Parrish-Tillman finished with 23 points, four blocks, Saelzler scored 17 points, 18 rebounds and sophomore Orion Tomlinson had 15 points and two steals.

Junior sports journalist Kyle Clem, interviews head coach Jon Penberthy recapping the Valley championship game in the following podcast.

All Good Things Come to an End

Once all hype dialed down, the boys were back to work Monday evening getting ready to host their CIF State playoff game against Calaveras, March 2. The Eagles were without their clutch big man, Saelzler, as he suffered from the flu Monday night. Although senior Ryan Brazil jumped into the starting lineup, nothing went the Eagles way. Multiple turnovers and missed opportunities cost the boys a State playoff win. The Eagles fell to Calaveras, 64-63.

After a successful season, the 2019-2020 Fresno Christian boys basketball team finished as undefeated league champs, 10-0, and 26-7 overall. From early morning practices to late night shoot around hang-outs, this season will go down as one of the best in campus history.

For more information on the boys basketball team, check out ‘Eagles win at Selland’ and make sure to leave a comment. Take the opportunity to congratulate all the coaching staff and the boys on their success this season.

For more of Cortez’s articles, check out ‘Girls soccer seals the dear, wins DV Valley championship’ and ‘Volleyball seniors discuss final home game of high school’. 

Richie Cortez can be reached via email, or twitter @richie_cortez9

Kyle Clem also contributed to this article and can be reached via email.

The following slideshow includes images from the Central Section Division V Valley Championship game at Selland Arena, Feb. 28.

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