Lady Cats easily advance in seniors’ final home game

Clovis senior Vanessa O’Neal (4) snares a first-half rebound. (CNJ staff photo: Rick White)

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

Had it been a closer game, elimination contest as it was, perhaps the five seniors on the Clovis girls basketball team would not have had so much time to reflect about their last game at Rock Staubus Gymnasium.

But, en route to a 76-26 blowout victory over Santa Fe, the five seniors had all 5 1/2 minutes of game time left to think about it after going to the bench together in the fourth quarter.

It was also five-and-a-half minutes of real time as Clovis had insured a running clock by having at least a 35-point lead in the second half. The Lady Wildcats led 51-14 at the intermission in the one of first-round games in the Class 5A state playoffs.

Aimee Hilburn, Brittany Blackmon, Tori Quintana, Jessica Russell and Vanessa O’Neal — the five Clovis seniors — wiped away tears when the final buzzer sounded.

According to Clovis coach Miles Watters, the significance of the night was weighing on his seniors much earlier.

“I looked down during introductions and some of the seniors had tears in their eyes and I’m thinking, ‘Uh-oh, what’s going to happen here tonight,’” Watters said. “But they came out focused and ready to play. They were sharp and crisp. They could have played down to the level of competition, but they did a great job.”

Clovis (26-2) faces No. 9 La Cueva in Tuesday’s quarterfinals in Albuquerque.

The Wildcats stuck with their bread-and-butter — at least until the end. Brittany Blackmon — the school’s all-time leading scorer, whose points almost always come in the paint — launched a 3-pointer just before the seniors exited the game. Blackmon’s attempt from the baseline was well short.

“She’s been working hard on that. We probably should have set her a better screen to get her a better look, but that’s all right,” Watters said with a chuckle. “She just needed to let one fly like that.”

Santa Fe (9-20) struggled to get off shots early as Clovis ran off 16 of the game’s first 17 points. In fact, the Demonettes didn’t have a shot from the floor in the first three minutes and saw the Lady Cats cruise to a 12-0 lead.

Clovis led 24-5 at the end of the first quarter and 45-7 midway through the second. Sophomore Ebony Bunton led the top-seeded Lady Cats with 18 points while Blackmon added 17.

“We got to play the No. 1 team in the state and it was a great opportunity for some of our younger players,” Santa Fe coach Bill Dimas said. “Our younger players got a taste of what a state championship team is comprised of.”

The Demonettes, seeded 16th in the Class 5A postseason, were led by Sabrina Romero’s eight points. Junior Tori Northcutt tallied 11 for Clovis while
Hilburn contributed 10 points in the runaway win.

Hilburn has been playing for the Clovis varsity since she was a ninth-grader — the first person in school history to do that.

“When they started the (national anthem), it was starting to hit me that this was the last time,” Hilburn said. “Calling our names out when we went on the court, it was the last time for everything. I wanted to go out there and give it my all.”