By Eric Butler
Who could blame the 14-and-under Clovis Wildcats for thinking just a little bit past the state AAU girls basketball tournament?
The tourney, being held in Clovis this weekend, will enter its last day with a showcase team — a squad that’s obliterated the rest of its field so far.
The Wildcats reached today’s championship round by defeating two teams from Albuquerque. Clovis clobbered the New Mexico Magic 91-37 early Saturday and followed by whipping New Mexico Magic All-Stars 77-43.
Clovis will host the title game for that age group at 12:30 p.m. today at Rock Staubus Gymnasium.
Aimee Hilburn and Tori Quintana — who both saw action for the Clovis High varsity team last year — headline a team dominated by freshmen. Also with the Cats are Brittany Blackmon — who finished fifth in Class 5A state high jump competition — and Jessica Russell, a freshman at Yucca.
Throw in Portales’ Morgan Hill and Silver’s Talmai Aguirre and you see why this group is already aiming to improve on their 16th-place finish at the national tournament last year in the 13-and-under category.
“It was really tough, but we improved a lot from the year before. This year, I think we’ll do even better (at nationals),” said Russell, who hit three-straight baskets in her team’s second victory of the day. “I was surprised that I made some, because I hadn’t been hitting any (shots) lately.”
Aguirre and Hilburn led Clovis with 18 points, while Russell tossed in 10 in second win of the day. In the morning contest, Aguirre paced the Wildcats with 22 as Blackmon and Hilburn added 18 and 15 points respectively.
“At this tournament, I think they’re the best team here. I’m a little disappointed that the upper division (17-and-under) didn’t fill out and isn’t that strong, but we’ve got some strong kids in each division,” said Clovis girls varsity coach Miles Watters, watching the tournament as a spectator and organizer. “These 14s have worked real hard and have won three tournaments over in Texas so far. You know, it’s just all a building process.”
“We all want to be on the same page, because soon these kids are going to be here at the high school,” said Regina Downing, head coach for the Clovis 14-and-under team. “We just want to get running what we’re going to be running next year.”
Two other Clovis teams also went into Saturday afternoon contests with a shot at remaining unbeaten heading into the final day.
But the 17-and-under Wildcats were defeated 63-58 by the El Paso Comets and needed a win late Saturday night against Las Cruces Freedom for a return shot at the Comets.
“We have to protect the ball a lot better. We just had way too many unforced errors when we started the game,” said 17-and-under Clovis coach Ted Soto, whose team was led by Monique Walker’s 28 points. “We dug our own hole.”
The 11-and-under Clovis Wildcats were tied with Albuquerque Attack 12-12 at halftime of their semifinal. But the Attack pulled away for a 40-25 win, despite 15 points from Clovis’ Arquitia Jernigan.
“They’re a very good team and well-coached,” said Cats coach Brian Bunce, whose next chore was to find a way at beating the Albuquerque squad — if given another opportunity on Sunday. “Right now, we’re trying to figure that out.”