Rio Rancho stands between Lady Cats and title game

Clovis freshman Ebony Bunton played in her first state tournament game in Clovis’ 44-40 win over Gallup on Tuesday. The Lady Wildcats face Rio Rancho today in the semifinals. (CNJ staff: Eric Kluth)

By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer

Rio Rancho coach Bob McIntyre said it’s going to take a great effort by his team to derail a Clovis-Mayfield Class 5A girls state championship game.

Clovis and Mayfield remain undefeated heading into today’s semifinals. Clovis faces Rio Rancho. Mayfield takes on Sandia.

“All year long has been a collision between Clovis and Mayfield for the championship,” he said. “Only us and Sandia remain in the way.”

Clovis has already beaten Rio Rancho twice this season — by nine and 13 points.

McIntyre is most wary of Clovis’ junior post tandem of Brittany Blackmon and Aimee Hilburn. While Blackmon is a tenacious scorer, Hilburn is as comfortable pushing the fastbreak as mixing it up inside.

“It would be unfair to say that’s all Clovis has,” McIntyre said. “They rely on their inside, but their outside game can be deadly, too.”

However, Clovis struggled with its shooting in Tuesday’s 44-40 win over Gallup in the quarterfinals. The Lady Wildcats shot under 35 percent from the field, partly due to Gallup’s imposing 6-foot-7 junior post Valerie Kast.

“The game went the way I feared it might go,” Clovis coach Miles Watters said. “Gallup played very inspired basketball, partially due to the fans. I’m please that we kept our composure.”

Orange-clad Gallup fans by the thousands are a state-tournament staple.

Watters said opening-game jitters hurt every team playing in The Pit.

“Not one team played as well as they’re probably capable of playing,” he said.

McIntyre disagreed.

“I think that’s as well as Gallup’s played all year,” said McIntyre, who should know. Rio Rancho beat the Bengals three times this season in district play.

Rio Rancho is lead by post Nicole Tatum and guard Kiah Rotunmo, who are each averaging over 10 points a game. However, Rotunmo has been ill.

“We had to have the day off. If we played Clovis today, I don’t know if she’d have been able to play, and it would have taken a miracle to beat Clovis without her,” McIntyre said.

He said the Rams would have to win with defense. Rio Rancho shot poorly against La Cueva in the quarterfinals, but still won 41-29 win.

“We’ve survived off our defense,” McIntyre said. “That’s what we’ve done all year long.”