LAS CRUCES — On a night where the margin for error was small, the Clovis Wildcats had a tough time closing things out on the road.
Cesar Molina scored 19 points to lead three in double figures, and Class 4A Las Cruces Centennial survived the fourth quarter for a 59-53 win on Friday night in the first matchup between the two schools.
Aaron Okinga scored 16 points and Omar Baez 11 for the second-year Hawks (8-5), who saw an 8-point lead evaporate after a quick Wildcats run before taking the lead back on a Baez layup.
“They’re a really good team; they’re one of the better teams we’ve played this year,” Clovis coach Matt King said of Centennial, who he figures will challenge Roswell High for the 4A crown later this season. “Playing them in their gym was tough. We played really gritty for most of the game. We’re really proud of the kids for the effort they made. We just needed to get a couple of stops.
“The game was close, and they made a couple more plays.”
While King was disappointed to come out without a win, he drew some satisfaction from the fact the Wildcats gave themselves chances to win a tough road game.
Clovis (6-4) pieced together a 10-1 run in just about 90 seconds, with senior Willie McCray scoring on a 3-point play and then going coast-to-coast on an opportunity created by the press. Guard Kamal Cass scored a layup, followed by a 3-pointer from Justin Henderson after a Centennial free throw to give the Wildcats a short-lived lead.
But the Hawks took the lead right back, and sealed the win with big foul shooting down the stretch, including 6-of-6 in the final 30 seconds as part of a 24-of-30 night.
“They not only shot it well from the free throw line, but they’ve got some talented kids,” King said. “They’ve got a 6-7 kid inside, and their guards are very good.”
McCray scored 14 points to lead the Wildcats, though he faced an aggressive box-and-one defense throughout the night. Marquese Gaither scored 12 points for Clovis, and hit two of Clovis’ nine 3-pointers on the night.
“We’ll see defenses like that until we have balance offensively,” King said. “I think we took some steps in the right direction. Justin Henderson made some shots for us, Brandon Brewer made some shots for us, Marquese played like he has, and Kamal got some baskets too.”
The Wildcats will stay in Las Cruces today to face Las Cruces High in a 5 p.m. tilt. The Bulldawgs also played Friday, with a 60-52 home win against Hobbs.
Clovis (6-4) — Marquese Gaither 5 0-1 12, Kamal Cass 2 0-2 5, D.D. Egbert 1 1-2 4, Willie McCray 6 1-2 14, Brandon Brewer 2 0-0 6, Justin Henderson 3 0-0 8, Roland Chavez 0 2-4 2, Traivon Sopila 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 4-11 53.
Centennial (8-5) — Aaron Okinga 5 4-6 16, Omar Baez 2 7-9 11, Cesar Molina 5 6-6 19, Johny Gomez 0 2-2 2, James Mulheron 0 2-2 2, Vince Carrillo 2 1-1 5, Ben Hindes 1 2-4 4. Totals 15 24-30.
Clovis 9 16 8 20 — 53
Centennial 13 11 13 22 — 59
3-pointers — Clovis, Brewer 2, Gaither 2, Henderson 2, Cass, Egbert, McCray. Centennial, Molina 3, Okinga 2. Junior varsity — Clovis 67, Centennial 66, OT.