By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
ALBUQUERQUE — The first one in The Pit is out of the way. Now the Clovis High Lady Wildcats can zero in on trying to win a second Class 5A state championship in three years.
The Lady Cats used their size and experience to keep Las Cruces High at bay en route to a 53-42 victory over the Lady Bulldawgs in Tuesday’s opening quarterfinal matchup.
Junior guard Ebony Bunton scored 19 points — including the first 10 of the second quarter — and senior guard Tori Northcutt added 14 as Clovis (21-5) extended its winning streak to 12 games.
Freshman forward Antiesha Brown led the Lady Cats’ 34-25 domination of the glass with 11 rebounds, and added eight points.
Veteran CHS coach Miles Watters said it was far from flawless effort, but good enough against a team that is trying to establish itself as a state force.
“We were a little shaky at first, but so were they,” Watters said. “It wasn’t really a well-played game from either side; we just had a few more spurts than they did.”
The second-seeded Lady Cats face sixth-seeded Gallup, which beat Alamogordo on
Tuesday, in a 1:15 p.m. semifinal on Thursday.
Northcutt had a quiet first half, but her basket with just over a minute left in the opening frame broke the only tie of the game.
Bunton, who picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of the game, extended an 8-4 lead at the quarter to 18-4 with two breakaway layups and two 3-pointers over the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second stanza.
Bunton said it was a matter of settling down a bit.
“I was more excited (early) than nervous,” she said.
The Lady Bulldawgs (17-11), trailing 24-9 at halftime after managing only three field goals, hit Clovis with fullcourt pressure when play resumed and mounted a run.
Las Cruces pulled as close as 30-21 with under four minutes left in the period before the Lady Cats regained control with the next six points.
Northcutt scored 10 points in the second half, including a couple of scissoring drives through the paint. She said the 9:45 a.m. start time required an adjustment.
“It’s a little different,” she said. “This morning we had to wake up really early, and it’s harder to get yourself focused mentally.”
The smallish Lady Bulldawgs — with only one player on their roster over 5-foot-6 — simply had trouble finding shots much of the game. They finished 14-of-45 (31 percent) from the floor.
“We’re vertically challenged,” quipped second-year coach Matt Abney after Cruces’ first state quarterfinal appearance since 1996. “But we went up against one of the elite programs in the state. To make it this far was an amazing accomplishment for us.”
The Lady Cats held 5-foot-8 senior Domonique Rivera, Cruces’ leading scorer, to three shots from the field and three points.
“I thought we did a good job of defending today,” Watters said. “That’s an aggressive, hustling team, and Matt’s done a good job there.”
Senior forward Adrianna Ramirez tried to take up the slack, finishing with 13 points. Cruces was playing in a state quarterfinal game for the first time since 1996.
“It’s a great experience and a great feeling,” Ramirez said. “We’ve worked hard in practice every day (to get here), and a lot of people have stepped up.
“We’ve faced a lot of good athletes this year, and Ebony is really good.”