Lady Wildcats crunch Rio Rancho for Plateau title

Clovis coach Miles Watters prods his team to keep playing hard during Wednesday’s championship game of the Plateau Holiday Classic. (Staff photo: Rick White)

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

They tried to front the Clovis post players. They tried to play behind them. They tried to lay off the outside shooters. In the end, Rio Rancho coach Bob McIntyre could only verbally shrug after Clovis beat the Rams 53-35 in the championship of the Plateau Holiday Classic.

“What can I say? They’re good,” McIntyre said. “We even tried to press them and that turned into a layup drill.”

Clovis (13-0), ranked second in Class 5A, trailed once — when Kiah Rotunno of Rio Rancho (10-3) knocked down a 3-pointer to start the game.

The Lady Wildcats seemed to suffer a blow when Brittany Blackmon, Clovis’ leading scorer, picked up her second foul at the end of the first quarter.

Leading 8-7 to start the second period, Tori Northcutt hit a 3-pointer and dished to Aimee Hilburn to give the Clovis a 13-7 advantage. With Blackmon — who finished with 24 points — sitting on the bench, Rio Rancho was only able to cut that lead to five points by halftime.

Rio Rancho was led by Nicole Tatum’s 10 points, while Rotunno added nine for the Rams.

In the third period, the Lady Wildcats exercised great patience in getting the ball to Blackmon. At the end of one minute-long stretch of passing on the perimeter, Melissa Roberts found Blackmon for a bucket and a 25-17 Clovis edge.

When the home teamopened a double-digit lead, McIntyre tried a full-court press. It backfired as Blackmon, Hilburn and Ebony Bunton easily cut through the defense.

“They can’t press us, c’mon now,” asserted Hilburn, who scored nine points and grabbed the tournament MVP honors.

Knowing that the Rams could likely end up in the state tournament opposite Clovis at some point, Hilburn thought that the more wins against Rio Rancho the merrier.

“I know they’re feeling it, because they really want to beat us. But you can’t hold the ’Cats man,” Hilburn added.

Blackmon picked up her fourth foul early in the fourth quarter, when Rio Rancho cut the lead to 41-30 on a three-point play by Rotunno. But ensuing baskets by Tori Quintana and Hilburn squashed any further hopes by the Rams.

It’s the second time Clovis has played Rio Rancho in a tournament final. In Rio Rancho’s tourney, the Lady Wildcats won 44-35.

“I tell you, Rio Rancho’s a good team and Mac’s a great coach. He’s not afraid to try something different; he’s not going to sit there and do the same thing night in and night out,” Clovis coach Miles Watters said. “But we showed good patience and made good decisions — when to run and when to push it inside.”