Clovis’ Aimee Hilburn rips the ball from Rio Rancho’s Kiah Rotunno during the second half of a Class 5A semifinal game Thursday at The Pit in Albuquerque. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
ALBUQUERQUE — It’s not often at any level of basketball that you get two unbeaten teams battling for a season-ending championship.
The Clovis Lady Wildcats and Mayfield Lady Trojans have been here before, though, and the stage is set for a high-powered Class 5A girls championship rematch at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday at The Pit.
Mayfield beat the Lady Cats 57-49 in last year’s 5A title clash.
While the Lady Trojans (27-0) rolled over Sandia 78-65 in Thursday’s first semifinal, Clovis was perhaps not as impressive but just as effective in dispatching Rio Rancho 42-36 to improve to 29-0.
Style points don’t mean much to CHS coach Miles Watters.
“We’re playing (against) a lot of good people,” he said. “We may not be hitting all our shots or look that good, but we’re in the finals.”
The Lady Cats broke away from a 25-25 tie with a 12-0 run that carried from the middle of the third quarter until early in the final stanza, then held on as Rio Rancho (25-4) desperately rallied back.
Junior post Brittany Blackmon hit 7-of-8 field goals and finished with 17 points while junior forward Aimee Hilburn added a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds for Clovis.
Rio Rancho, which has only to the Lady Cats (three times) and Mayfield (once), got 16 points from senior post Nicole Tatum.
The Lady Cats never trailed after Blackmon’s 3-point play put them in front 4-3 with 5:35 left in the first quarter.
After Rio Rancho pulled even on Tatum’s 3-point play with 4:43 left in the third period, Blackmon followed with another 3-point play and Hilburn buried a 3-pointer from the right wing. CHS held the Lady Rams scoreless for nearly six minutes and without a field goal for nearly eight.
Rio Rancho coach Bob McIntyre used a 2-3 zone most of the game to try to keep Clovis at bay.
“Our kids played a great game,” he said. “We hadn’t run a zone all year long. We lost the game at the free throw line (by making only 10-of-20), but I can’t say enough about my kids’ effort.”
Hilburn said the game was a struggle for the most part.
“I feel like we didn’t do what we wanted to, but we got ’er done,” she said. “Like coach Watters says, we always seem to find a way to win.”
Watters said Hilburn and Blackmon have been the team’s leaders most of the season.
“They’ve been our bread-and-butter,” he said. “It’s an honor to be down here and be in the finals again. But I guarantee they don’t hang runner up banners in Clovis.”
Blackmon said her team is looking forward to the challenge of the high-scoring Lady Trojans in the finals.
“We just need to come out and play our game,” she said.
Clovis’ defense was instrumental in keeping the Lady Rams in check. Except for Tatum, who used a bevy of slick moves to get to the basket, Rio Rancho managed only 6-of-22 from the field.
Talented Lady Rams junior Kiah Rotunno, who said she was a bit under the weather prior to the game, got into early foul trouble and was held to three points, including 0-of-8 from the field.
“I’m still not feeling too good, especially right now,” she said with a slight smile. “My shot wasn’t going in.”
With losses only to the two unbeatens, McIntyre tried to put a positive spin on it for his team.
“We came in as a (No. 3) seed and we leave as a three seed,” he said. “I guess we can say we’re the metro area champs.”
2:15 p.m. Saturday
at The Pit
Clovis (29-0) vs. Mayfield (27-0)
Coaches: Clovis, Miles Watters. Mayfield, George Maya
Last meeting: Mayfield beat Clovis 57-49 in 2004 state title game
Path to finals: Clovis beat Gallup 44-40, beat Rio Rancho 42-36. Mayfield beat Highland 8 , beat Sandia 78-65.
Players to watch: Clovis, Brittany Blackmon, 5-10, Jr., P; Aimee Hilburn, 5-11, Jr., F; Tori Quintana, 5-6, Jr., PG. Mayfield, Carissa McGee, 5-9, So., G; Krystal Torres, 5-5, Sr., G., Madison Spencer, 5-10, So., G.
Clovis scouting report: The offense often goes through Hilburn, who is an excellent ballhandler and passer. Clovis does a good job of getting the ball into Blackmon, who averages 19.5 points a game … Quintana is an excellent outside shooter … So. G Tori Northcutt and Sr. G Melissa Roberts are hard-nosed defenders.
Mayfield scouting report: Led by McGee, the Trojans are young, deep and athletic. Her size and baseline-to-baseline speed is frightening. She averages 15.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists a game. … Torres is the Trojans’ top scorer at 16.7 ppg.
By the numbers: Clovis has won 37 of its last 38 games.
Quotable: “Clovis is on our minds a lot. We can’t wait to play them.” — Mayfield sophomore Carissa McGee