Lady Cats capture 4-5A title

Members of the Clovis High girls basketball team celebrate after defeating Hobbs 48-46 in the District 4-5A District tournament finals on Saturday at Rock Staubus Gym. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

The visiting Hobbs Lady Eagles may have had the edge in offensive consistency, but Clovis that had the spurtability which gave the host team momentum at key junctures in a 48-46 victory Saturday night.

Behind 25 points from junior Ebony Bunton, the Lady Wildcats defeated Hobbs (16-12) for a third time this season and, this time, for the girls District 4-5A tournament championship at Rock Staubus Gym.

Clovis (19-5), which has now won 11 in a row, never fully gained control of the game, but both coaches agreed that a critical seven-point run — in the span of less than a minute — turned the contest around for the Lady Cats. That occurred at the end of the first half, just after Hobbs had opened a 25-19 lead for its largest advantage of the night.

The streak began with a free throw from Clovis’ Brittany Johnson, who then missed her second attempt with 39 seconds before intermission. But Bunton picked off a Hobbs pass and scored a layup to cut the margin down to three points.

With 12 seconds before half, Bunton put back in a miss from teammate Tori Northcutt which was quickly followed by a steal from Johnson — who then fed Bunton for a layup at the buzzer. Clovis’ 26-25 lead heading into the locker room was its first advantage of the evening.

“I feel like that’s when we lost the game,” said Hobbs coach Johnny Casaus, whose squad was led by Lasandra Franklin’s 18 points. “We gave up six points off of turnovers. Other than that, we played pretty solid.”

Clovis coach Miles Watters agreed.

“That was huge,” he said. “That might have been the ballgame right there. They made a couple of subs and we thought we could hit them with the press. We did and it really hurt them.”

The Lady Cats pulled out to a 46-38 lead late in the game before Hobbs hit six straight points to cut the margin to two.

After the teams traded free throws, two for Clovis’ Northcutt and two for the Lady Eagles’ Kaitlin Gray, Hobbs had one last chance to tie or go ahead. But senior Alesha Jackson’s drive to the right side of the basket ended with a missed shot and the clock ran out as the ball bounced out-of-bounds.

On the final play, Northcutt happened to be guarding Jackson, unlike most of the evening.

“I don’t know how many No. 10 (Selena Florez, who finished with 11 points) had tonight, but not many,” Watters said. “She’s their leading scorer and Tori just shut her down. Tori finally said, ‘Hey, let me guard No. 30 (Jackson).’”

Besides scoring six of the seven points for Clovis in the late first-half run, Bunton also had a critical basket with 3:51 left to play. After Mariah Sena picked off a Hobbs pass, Bunton scored on a third putback attempt, was fouled and hit a free throw to move a one-point lead up to a 40-36 advantage.

In the last two minutes of the contest, however, Bunton missed six straight free throws as Clovis tried to hold off the last Hobbs’ charge.

“That’s so uncharacteristic for Ebony to do that,” Watters said. “But, hey, that’s the thing about athletics — it’s a humbling sport. You’ve got to come in every week and do the same things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Added Northcutt of Bunton: “She (played a pretty good enough game to where I think it evened itself out.”