Damien wins first state boys basketball title for coach Mike LeDuc

Damien's Bradley Xie tries to maintain control while being pressured by Clovis North's Christian Calvillo (right).
(Nick Koza)

The pressure was on. Five consecutive times Northern California teams got to celebrate state championship basketball victories on Friday night at Golden 1 Center. For the final game of the night, La Verne Damien was counted on to rescue Southern California’s pride and reputation. The Spartans came through.

With Kaleb Smith, Spivey Word and RJ Smith leading the way, Damien defeated Clovis North 65-57 to win the state Division I championship and deliver the first state title for coach Mike LeDuc, who is in his 42nd year. LeDuc’s Glendora team played for a state title in 1989. Even though Tracy Murray scored 64 points, his team lost.

Damien (32-4) didn’t let the No. 13-seeded Broncos (22-12) get any ideas that an upset was possible. Word scored nine points early on as the Spartans attacked the basket with focus and confidence.

Kaleb Smith finished with 23 points, Word had 17 and RJ Smith 15.

“There’s sweat in my eyes,” Word joked in an emotional moment after the game. “A lot of work was put in. I can’t even explain it. On an NBA court, it’s crazy.”

What a year it’s been for LeDuc. He celebrated his 1,000th career victory and No. 1,018 means his first state title.

“It feels great,” LeDuc said. “It’s not about me. It’s about these guys.”

Clovis West received 25 points from sophomore point guard Connor Amundsen, the son of Clovis North coach Tony Amundsen.

Damien led by as many as 20 points.