Purr-fection for Lady Cats

Clovis’ Ebony Bunton looks to drive past a Mayfield defender during the second half of the Class 5A championship game on Saturday. (CNJ staff: Eric Kluth)

By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers

ALBUQUERQUE — Many of the key participants from last year’s Class 5A girls state championship game were back for Saturday’s title rematch between Clovis High and Mayfield.

In a titanic battle of unbeatens, this time it was the Lady Wildcats who made the key plays in the second half, hanging tough before scoring the game’s final four points to pull out a 49-46 victory for the title at The Pit.

Junior Aimee Hilburn found teammate Brittany Blackmon inside for the go-ahead basket with 53 seconds left, and freshman Ebony Bunton adding a layup against the Lady Trojans’ press with 13 seconds to go as the Lady Cats (30-0) avenged their eight-point 2004 title game loss to Mayfield (27-1).

“You couldn’t ask for a better game, could you?” said CHS girls coach Miles Watters, who added Saturday’s title to the 11 Class 2A state crowns he won while at Clayton.
“Mayfield’s got a great program; they have girls who play their hearts out every night.

“This was two proud programs trying to play for a championship. I’m just so excited for the girls — what a way to complete an undefeated season.”

Blackmon, CHS’ junior post, followed up her 7-for-8 shooting performance against Rio Rancho in the semifinals with an 8-for-10 effort and 19 points against Mayfield.

Hilburn added 12 points, four rebounds and five assists.

“I’ve been wanting to play Mayfield all year,” Bunton said. “I’d heard a lot about last year’s game. In AAU ball this summer, they beat us once and we beat them once.”

Clovis, which hit 4-of-6 on 3-pointers and shot 55 percent overall from the field, didn’t let the high-powered Lady Trojans get off on any long runs. Any time it looked like Mayfield might get some separation, the Lady Cats had an answer.

“Good teams do that,” Mayfield coach George Maya said. “We know sometimes we’re not going to get much off our press. Today, they not only broke the press, they scored.”

Mayfield built an 18-11 lead early in the second quarter after a 9-0 run, but the Lady Cats countered with the next six points and were within 20-17 at halftime.

“They made a couple of runs on us, but I think we handled it well and kept our heads,” Hilburn said. “Even if we get down in a game, we still know we can come back.”

The pace picked up in the third quarter. The teams exchanged four 3-pointers in a span of 57 seconds late in the period, which ended with Mayfield in front 37-34.

Blackmon put the Lady Cats ahead with the first two baskets of the final quarter, and neither team led by more than a point the rest of the way until Bunton’s late layup.

The Lady Trojans missed three well-defended 3-point attempts before time ran out.

The Lady Cats got a solid performance in a rare starting role from Bunton (five points, five assists), while senior Melissa Roberts and junior Vanessa O’Neal each contributed an important basket off the bench.

“Ebony doesn’t play like a freshman,” Watters said. “We knew if we were going to win today, she might be the difference.”

While Maya said his team had its chances, he was quick to praise the Lady Cats.

“It’s all because of Clovis,” he said. “They played really well, and they just outplayed us. They shot the ball well, and they took care of it when they had to.”

Junior guard Tori Quintana said the memory of last year’s loss to Mayfield was still fresh in the minds of the players.

“That was one of the worst feelings I’ve had in my life,” said Quintana, who contributed six points on two 3-pointers and added three rebounds and three assists. “Even my ACL injury wasn’t as hard as that. I didn’t want to have that feeling again.”