JACKSON – What a difference a week makes.
On Jan. 31, the Calaveras High School boys’ basketball team played perhaps their worst game of the year in a 67-44 road loss to the Sonora Wildcats. The defeat put Calaveras at 3-3 in the Mother Lode League standings.
Up next for Calaveras was a home clash with Amador, who already beat Calaveras this season, and then a road battle against Argonaut, which happens to be one of the most difficult places to play in the league. Losing one or both of those games would have made Calaveras’ playoff dreams much more difficult to become a reality.
However, that didn’t happen.
Calaveras beat Amador at home and followed that with a 63-51 win in a packed gym against Argonaut Friday night in Jackson. With back-to-back wins, and only two games remaining in the regular season, Calaveras head coach Kraig Clifton feels that his team has found its stride and it’s coming at the right time.
“I really do think this is the best we’ve played all year,” Clifton said. “We are playing complete team ball and are executing our game plan better than we have all year.”
The hometown Argonaut crowd was already feeling good before the opening tip-off, as they had just watched their girls’ team potentially wrap up the Mother Lode League title with a victory over Calaveras and was hoping for a repeat performance in the boys’ game.
The early excitement was muted right off the bat, as Calaveras jumped out to a commanding 11-3 lead. Senior Griffin Manning started the game with a 3-point basket, while senior Kaven Orlandi made two baskets in the paint and Tim Van Damme added six points and at the end of the opening quarter, Calaveras led 13-7.
Things didn’t slow down for Calaveras in the second quarter, as sophomore Jonathan Savage scored after an offensive rebound, junior AJ Cardon got a bucket in the paint and Manning drained another shot from downtown to put Calaveras ahead 20-7 with 5:10 to play in the half. Argonaut got back into the game with sharp 3-point shooting of its own, but Calaveras was able to enter the locker room with a 28-22 lead.
The Mustangs began the third quarter with a basket from behind the arc to cut the deficit to just three, but Manning came up big with another 3-point basket and following two Argonaut free throws, senior Colton Buckholz made a shot of his own from downtown and Manning followed with a long field goal to put Calaveras ahead 38-27.
With each big shot made, a little fight was taken out of the Argonaut crowd, which is a big reason why it’s so hard to play in Jackson.
“The crowd makes things difficult here,” Manning said. “You can’t hear your coach, your teammates and sometimes the refs.”
Calaveras ended the third quarter with a 44-34 lead. Calaveras never relinquished the lead, although Argonaut was able to cut it to 51-47 with 4:15 remaining. In the final four minutes, Calaveras outscored Argonaut 12-4 for the win.
Manning led Calaveras with 14 points, which includes four shots from 3-point land. With freshman guard Jay Clifton still recovering from an injury, Manning has been asked to do a little more on the floor and he’s stepped up to the challenge.
“He was fantastic and he played a ton of minutes,” Kraig Clifton said. “He helped bring the ball up the floor and played really smart defense. He hit some big shots and just played fantastic.”
Orlandi finished the night with 13 points; Van Damme scored 10; Buckholz, Savage and Cardon each added eight points; and Isaiah Williams scored two points in the win.
With just two more games to play before playoffs begin, Friday night’s competition and atmosphere was precisely what Clifton wanted his team to feel with the postseason about to begin.
“This is exactly what you want coming down the stretch of league,” Clifton said. “You want that environment and that momentum and experience. That way, when it comes to be playoff time, it’s not foreign.”
Calaveras will take on Summerville at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday in Tuolumne and will then wrap up the regular season at 7:30 p.m., Friday against Bret Harte at Mike Flock Gym in San Andreas.