Fort Sumner’s Tobea Patterson is fouled by Magdalena’s Kayla Armstrong, No. 32, and two other players as she drives to the basket during the second half of their Class 1A quarterfinal game in Bernalillo. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
ALBUQUERQUE — Sophomore Tori Northcutt’s layup with five seconds left pushed Clovis past Gallup 44-40 on Tuesday in the first round of the Class 5A girls state tournament at The Pit.
Brittany Blackmon scored 15 points and Aimee Hilburn added 10 as the second-seed Lady Wildcats (28-0) avoided the first-round upset.
Valerie Kast and Cherelle Rosales scored 10 points each for the seventh-seeded Bengals (17-11), who trailed by as many as 10 points late in the first half.
Clovis coach Miles Watters admitted his team was a little uptight.
“I don’t know how many layups we missed tonight,” Watters said. “Hopefully, we will settle down (in the semifinals).”
Clovis shot less than 35 percent from the field and made just 2 of 8 3-pointers against a Gallup zone packed in to take away Clovis’ potent inside game.
The Lady Cats face a familiar foe — Rio Rancho — in Thursday’s semifinals. Clovis beat Rio Rancho twice this season. The Rams (25-3) beat La Cueva 41-29 earlier in the day.
“We’ve played each other twice already,” Watters said. “Rio Rancho is just a quality program, and we’ve had some great battles with them in the past.”
The 6-foot-7 Kast made it difficult on the Lady Wildcats’ normally potent inside game led by Blackmon and Hilburn.
“I was impressed by her,” Clovis assistant coach Dan Replogle said. “She moved pretty well for her size.
“I’ll tell you what, they had a good defensive scheme. As you know our bread-and-butter is pounding it inside. But I’ll tell you, a 6-7 girl can take that away in a hurry.
The game featured two of the winningest prep girls coaches in the state in Clovis’ Miles Watters and Gallup’s Johnny Lomasney, who have combined to win more than 850 games and 14 state titles.
“Gallup’s a great team. I hope he (John Lomasney) doesn’t check it in this year,” said Watters, who won 11 state titles at Clayton but is still looking for his first at Clovis. “He’s been tremendous for basketball in the state of New Mexico.”
Gallup pulled to within 42-40 on Renee Dick’s 3-pointer from deep in the corner with 19 seconds to go. Gallup had a chance to tie the game or win it with a 3-pointer after Tori Quintana missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Hilburn stole the ball and fed Northcutt to seal the win.
Gallup stunned the Lady Wildcats earlier, jumping out to 10-3 lead behind a pair of short jumper by Kast and a Telishia Joe 3-pointer.
But Clovis rallied behind the scoring of Blackmon and Northcutt and pressure defense that forced 23 turnovers in the game.
Northcutt scored seven points in the second quarter, including a jumper that gave Clovis its biggest lead at 29-19 with 44 seconds left in the half.
Cheered by a huge hometown contingent in the thousands, Gallup clawed with 35-31 by the end the third quarter, and tied the game at 35 on back-to-back buckets by Kast.
“Against Gallup, sometimes you just have to survive,” Watters said. “They can take care of the ball and make shots, and then their crowd gets into it.”
But Clovis responded with a Hilburn jumper and a Quintana 3-pointer and held off one final Bengals’ charge.