Cats get it done with defense

Clovis senior Jeff Epps tries to release a shot over Manzano freshman James Syme (left) and sophomore Chanselor Bell during the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s District 4-5A tournament game at Rock Staubus Gymnasium. Epps was fouled on the play by Syme

By Dave Wagner

The Clovis High boys basketball team didn’t need 96 points against Manzano.

Instead, it was the defensive end that carried the Wildcats in a relatively easy 57-37 District 4-5A tournament victory over the Monarchs Wednesday at Rock Staubus Gym.

The result moves CHS into the tournament semifinals on Friday at Hobbs, a week after their 96-95 victory over the Eagles in the regular-season finale at Ralph Tasker Arena. This time, a berth in next week’s regional round will be on the line.

Senior point guard Bud Willis led three Cats in double figures with 13 points, shooting 6-of-7 from the field. Clovis (21-6) smothered the youthful Monarchs early and had control of the game throughout.

“Defensively, we made it tough for them to get into a flow,” Clovis coach J.D. Isler said. “Our post people did a really good job on (Manzano scoring leader Rodney) Ferguson.
“I just feel like we’re playing pretty good right now. We’re giving ourselves a chance to keep playing.”

The Cats survived off nights by their top two scorers, Justin Pinckney (11 points) and Dominique Easterlin (four). But they were never threatened by the Monarchs, who started four sophomores with Ferguson and fell behind 31-16 at halftime.

Cesar Cuevas led Manzano with 14 points, including four 3-pointers, and Paul Gabaldon added 10. But the Cats held Ferguson, a University of New Mexico football signee, to just five points.

“We just can’t score against them,” second-year Monarchs coach Greg Brown said. “It’s been the same story for two years now. I think the entire reason is they’re very good defensively.”

Manzano attempted to keep the pace slow, but the result was a 12-for-32 performance from the field with 18 turnovers, including 11 in the first half.

“They were passing and screening away,” said CHS junior John Props, who finished with 10 points, all in the first half on 4-of-5 shooting. “We made them start their offense from about five feet outside the 3-point line.”

Meantime, Clovis hit 7-of-12 shots in each of the first two quarters, and did not commit a turnover until three minutes remained in the half.

Props, who won the game at Hobbs with a 3-pointer in the closing seconds, benefited from some open looks in helping the Cats get out to their early cushion.

“I came in early (before the game) and just shot around,” Props said. “I felt good about my release tonight.”

The Monarchs, who had to work hard to get past Carlsbad 70-60 at home on Monday, knew they were in for a tough time, according to Brown.

“Our whole deal was to beat Carlsbad and keep our season alive,” he said. “You need more than one day to prepare for Clovis.

“We had to be a little more aggressive offensively. We wanted to keep it close and give ourselves a chance at the end.”

Isler said the Cats are confident they can win again at Hobbs and earn a trip to top-seeded Eldorado on Saturday in the tournament finals.

“I don’t see a whole lot of difference (in the two games),” he said. “Nobody wants to lose these games. Our kids believe they can win, and so do I.”

Clovis 57, Manzano 37
Manzano (12-12) —
Frank Tafoya 0 0-0 0, Matt Kellogg 0 1-2 1, Cesar Cuevas 4 2-2 14, Brandon Smith 0 0-0 0, Andrew Donnell 1 0-0 3, Jacob Case 0 0-0 0, Jordan Parks 0 1-2 1, Cash Davis 1 0-0 2, Paul Gabaldon 4 2-3 10, Rodney Ferguson 2 1-5 5, James Syme 0 1-3 1, Chsasnselor Bell 0 0-0 0. Totals 12-32 8-17 37.
Clovis (21-6) — Bud Willis 6-7 0-2 13, Tizrick Phillips 3-6 0-0 6, Zac Watters 0-0 0-1 0, Jacob Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Elliott Hita 1-5 0-0 2, John Props 4-5 0-0 10, Justin Pinckney 5-10 1-2 11, Devin Sweet 1-1 0-0 2, Dominique Easterlin 2-8 0-0 4, Mario Caswell 2-5 2-2 6, Jeff Epps 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 25-49 4-9 57.
Manzano 9 7 11 10 — 37
Clovis 16 15 11 15 — 57
3-pointers — Manzano 5-11 (Cuevas 4, Donnell), Clovis 3-7 (Props 2-2, Willis 1-1, Easterlin 0-1, Phillips 0-1, Hita 0-2). Rebounds — Manzano 27, Clovis 24 (Caswell 8). Assists — Manzano n/a, Clovis 15 (Hita 4). Total fouls — Manzano 14, Clovis 18. Fouled out — none. Technicals — Gabaldo