California state title eludes Orlich
SACRAMENTO – When Tom Orlich was handed the runner-up trophy at the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships on Saturday night he didn’t raise it above his head to excite Clovis West High School followers.
Finishing second in the state to De La Salle of Concord brought little consolation to Orlich and his Golden Eagles following a 43-40 Division I boys’ basketball defeat at Arco Arena.
They were there to win it all, and on this late winter evening, finishing second in a state of 35 million people wasn’t part of the plan.
“We had the opportunity and we just didn’t capitalize on it,” Orlich said. “When you lose you always feel like you (didn’t play up to your capabilities).”
Orlich’s top senior De’Jon Jackson couldn’t find any solace in winning his third Central Section title and first Southern Section championship earlier in the month.
“No, I wanted a state championship,” Jackson said. “We had like three chances and shot the shots, but we just couldn’t make them, and it was very frustrating for us.”
Orlich was trying to win his first California state title after leading South Tahoe High to Nevada state titles in 1987 and 1992. His only other state title loss was to Western of Las Vegas in 1991.
“I was proud of them before we even stepped onto the court and I’m proud of them afterward,” Orlich said. “It was a record-breaking year and we played the last high school game in the state of California and we came up short.”
Although Orlich didn’t have any time to reminisce about his South Tahoe coaching career beforehand, his past followed him to Arco Arena. His former athletic director Frank Kovac was in attendance as was his former assistant Andy Hughes.
“He gets the most out of his kids,” said Hughes, who assisted Orlich from 1985-87 and now is an assistant with the Douglas High girls’ varsity program. “He’s a great disciplinarian and communicator with his kids.”
Orlich showed many of the traits that helped him lead South Tahoe to 17 division and nine regional titles during his 25-year career with the Vikings: He exhorted his team to play tough man-to-man defense for 32 minutes, he kept the referees on their toes and motivated his players to correct their mistakes.
The first Clovis West player to draw Orlich’s displeasure was Joey Parker. After draining a three-point shot to give the Golden Eagles a 9-8 lead, Parker didn’t get back in time to stop De La Salle Lincoln Gunn from scoring a layup. Before Parker headed back on offense, Orlich remained poised as he reminded Parker to get back on defense.
Like he did at South Tahoe, a well-dressed Orlich spent most of the game standing with his arms crossed. Even a missed layup by Trevor Goldsberry didn’t change his posture.
But the three-man officiating crew did.
When an official from behind the play blew his whistle for a foul against Goldsberry, Orlich didn’t question the call, only the official’s angle.
“How did you see that? You had no angle,” Orlich said.
With 4 minutes, 5 second remaining and his team trailing 39-33, Orlich used a time-out to question his team’s defensive resolve.
“We aren’t going to win the game if we allow them to go to the basket uncontested and not take a charge,” he fumed.
A little more than a minute later, the reminder paid off as junior forward Tim Shelton closed off the baseline to take a charging foul on Ethan Niedermeyer. Twenty seconds later, Ian Walberg clogged up the lane to force a traveling violation.
But a turnover and four missed three-points shots inside the final minute sealed the Golden Eagles’ fate. De La Salle missed three front ends of one-and-one free throws and didn’t close out Clovis West until Justin Joyner made two free throws for a 43-38 with 7.7 seconds remaining.
“We had hoped Parker and Walberg to hit some threes just didn’t come through like we had hoped, and that happens,” Orlich said. “It doesn’t define our year. We just had an off-shooting night.”
When the final second elapsed and De La Salle scrambled to midcourt for a wild celebration, Orlich put his hands together to applaud both teams.
Jackson played for Orlich all four seasons and quickly learned why Clovis West hired someone from a tiny school in the Sierra.
“Tom Orlich is a great coach,” Jackson said. “I didn’t think too much when they first said his name (when he was hired) from South Tahoe. When he got here he made people play defense that didn’t want to play defense. He’d tell somebody to do something and they’d do it and his defense is just unbelievable the way he sets it up.”
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