Cats claw way into finals

Clovis sophomore Layne Strebeck goes up against Rio Grande junior Alex Rogan during the second quarter of Thursday’s semifinal game of the Milk Cow Classic. (CNJ staff photo: Andrew Chavez)

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

Under the circumstances, the Clovis Wildcats couldn’t have asked for a better game on Thursday night.

In the semifinals of the Milk Cow Classic, the host Wildcats took the court without starting point guard Jaden Isler — who broke a bone in his hand the night before.

But, behind the efforts of guards Cody Thornsbury and Bryce Hill, Clovis was able to come back from a 14-point deficit to beat Rio Grande 62-57.

“We’re going to be trying to find ourselves a little bit without Jaden. Missing him is going to hurt, because he does a lot of things for us, but our other guards stepped up and really handled the ball well,” said Clovis coach J.D. Isler, who estimates that his son will miss the next six weeks of play while his hand recuperates. “Cody handled the ball well, Bryce shot the ball well and Jason Roberts also came in there and did a good job.”

The Wildcats also dominated the boards in the second half thanks to the efforts of Rishard Matthews, Michael Lewis and Devin Sweet. Their efforts, which helped Clovis to a 25-14 rebounding edge, offset the absence of 6-foot-5 Chris Finch — who is visiting family during the holiday break.

The Wildcats (7-3) took their first lead of the game when Thornsbury drove into the lane for a layup with 6:20 left to play.

Clinging to a 60-57 lead late, Thornsbury also practically cinched the contest by hitting a free throw with nine seconds left. Thornsbury, one of four Clovis players in double figures, scored 10 while sophomore Hill led the team with 15.

Rio Grande (7-7) got 18 points from Isaac Telles and 15 from Samuel Lente in the loss.

Clovis plays Pampa for the title tonight.

“Coach asked me and Cody to step it up to another level before the game,” Hill said. “We met their intensity and overcame their intensity in the fourth quarter,” Hill said. “We kept our heads and came back. We just had to keep fighting, no matter what — just go down swinging.”

But Clovis didn’t go down at all. Trailing 43-29 after Rio Grande’s Lente hit a basket with 6:28 left in the third quarter, the Wildcats scored 23 of the game’s next 26 points, surging ahead 52-49 midway through the fourth period. It was a 10-minute stretch when the Ravens were unable to score a basket from the floor.

“We got into some foul trouble and when you have certain guys come off the bench, and they don’t produce, it makes it difficult,” said Rio Grande coach Wally Salata, who also pointed out that his team only shot seven free throws — all from Telles — for the game. “If we get to the free throw line, we score more points. When we don’t get those calls, then you take away part of our game.”

Milk Cow Classic
At Rock Staubus Gym
Thursday’s games
Consolation semifinals
Rio Rancho 60, Santa Fe St. Michael’s 54
Amarillo Tascosa 63, Aztec 61
Championship semifinals
Pampa 75, Abilene Cooper 58
Clovis 62, Rio Grande 57
Friday’s games
St. Michael’s vs. Aztec, 7th place, 11:10 a.m.
Rio Rancho vs. Tascosa, 5th place, 12:50 p.m.
Cooper vs. Rio Grande, 3rd place, 4:10 p.m.
Pampa vs. Clovis, championship, 7:30 p.m.