By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
CLOVIS — The Clovis Lady Wildcats went to their big guns Friday night to nail down the third annual Plateau Holiday Classic championship.
Seniors Aimee Hilburn (17 points), Brittany Blackmon (15) and Tori Quintana (9) combined for all but four of Clovis’ points in a hard-fought 45-34 victory over Portales at Rock Staubus Gym.
It was the third consecutive championship in the event for the Lady Wildcats (11-1), who had a hard time with their rivals after beating them soundly 47-28 earlier this season in Portales.
“I expected Portales to play well,” Lady Cats coach Miles Watters said. “They’re just a well-coached team, and they have a lot of weapons. They did a good job of slowing us down, but we did what we had to to win.”
The Lady Rams (8-5) fell behind 20-9, but held Clovis scoreless for more than eight minutes spanning halftime and pulled even on a basket by senior Megan Kabrick midway through the third period.
“We just haven’t seen pressure defense like that,” Portales coach Brenda Gomez said. “It was good for us to have to try and handle that, but that pressure makes a difference in the game.”
Quintana, who hit 3-pointers to erase the Lady Cats’ early deficit, ended the mid-game drought by taking a long inbounds pass from sophomore Ebony Bunton and knocking down another trifecta from the right wing, sparking a 9-0 Clovis run.
“The 3s were big,” Watters said of Quintana. “She has that knack sometimes.”
Junior guard Briana Hernandez, who scored seven first-quarter points in the Lady Rams’ 37-36 semifinal win over Gallup on Thursday, had the hot hand again in this one. She finished with three 3-pointers, including one on Portales’ first trip downcourt, and a team-high 11 points.
“She’s getting better for them every game,” Watters said of Hernandez. “She’s going to be a heck of a player for them.”
The Lady Rams held Clovis scoreless for nearly four minutes at the start before Quintana unloaded her first two 3-pointers, the first one from the key and the second one from the left wing. Hernandez kept Portales within 11-9 by hitting a 30-footer as time expired in the quarter, but the Lady Rams went scoreless for more than seven minutes in the second quarter as Clovis took control.
Hilburn, who finished with a team-high four assists in the game, had five blocked shots in the first 12 minutes, forcing Portales to try do its scoring from the perimeter.
Blackmon’s basket in the final minute of the third quarter gave Clovis an eight-point lead with eight minutes left, but the Lady Cats had trouble putting Portales away. Foul problems for post players Morgan Hill and Bethany Self in the second half were too much for the Lady Rams to overcome.
“It wasn’t a pretty game to watch, but it was a great defensive effort by both teams,” Watters said. “We’re pleased and excited to win our third straight championship.”
The return to eligibility of Bunton and senior guard Vanessa O’Neal has given the Lady Cats more weapons as they try to defend their state title.
“It’ll take some time to get Ebony and Vanessa in the swing,” Watters said. “Everybody has to adjust their style of play a little bit.”
Clovis placed Hilburn, Blackmon and Quintana on the seven-player all-tournament team, while Hill and Kabrick represented Portales. Others on the squad were Gallup senior Telisha Joe and La Cueva senior wing Kaitlyn Rice.
Plateau Holiday Classic
At Rock Staubus Gym
Eldorado 54, El Paso Ysleta 26
Farmington 39, Moriarty 38
Gallup 47, La Cueva 39
Clovis 45, Portales 34