Clovis High’s Bryce Hill, right, wrestles with Mayfield’s Luis Quinones for control of the ball during Saturday’s Class 5A first-round state tournament game at Rock Staubus Gym. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
Although nowhere close to sea, Clovis coach J.D. Isler did have a bit of an albatross hanging on him in recent years. During his six seasons with the Wildcats, his teams repeatedly had come within a game of being able to play in The Pit before just falling short — usually in a tough road playoff loss.
On Saturday night, though, Clovis punched its ticket to the Albuquerque basketball arena by beating Mayfield 58-41. The Cats will play La Cueva at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday in a Class 5A quarterfinal game.
“It feels great,” said Jaden Isler, Clovis’ junior point guard. “I’ve been waiting since I was a freshman and my dad’s been waiting longer to get up here.
“We’re always one game away, but we felt good that we were finally able to get to play at home. It’s just so phenomenal, getting to go down The Pit’s ramps now and knowing that we have a chance to win it all.”
At Rock Staubus Gym, a quick seven-point run in the last minute of the third quarter enabled the host Wildcats to grab a lead. When the visiting Trojans were forced into eight straight turnovers to start the fourth, Clovis (23-5) opened the gap en route to a victory in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Mayfield (12-15) had a 37-36 lead with a minute remaining in the third when Will Griebel hit an inside shot. But Clovis’ Michael Lewis answered with a field goal in the paint, and an ensuing free throw, to put the Cats up 39-37.
Clovis guards Jaden Isler and Bryce Hill then combined to strip a Trojans player of the ball at midcourt and Isler went in for a layup for a four-point lead. Before the quarter came to an end, Lewis drew a charge and Hill drove in for a bank shot and a 43-37 advantage heading into the fourth.
Isler and Hill had 14 each to lead Clovis, while Mayfield was paced by Nate Abeyta’s nine points.
The Wildcats scored only six points in the first half of the final period, but Mayfield was unable to even get a shot off in that same span as the Trojans were plagued by a Clovis full-court press and their own miscues.
“We were trying some different presses throughout the first half, to kind of find one that worked,” J.D. Isler said. “We kind of went to a zone press. It really bothered them, that with our half-court trap.”
It was the final game at home for Lewis and fellow senior Cody Thornsbury, who finished with 11 points. Though Clovis had built an advantage as large as eight points in the first quarter, before Mayfield came back, Thornsbury’s 3-pointer with 5:15 to play gave the Wildcats their first double-digit lead of the night.
“That’s a good basketball team,” Mayfield coach Tommy Morrow said of the Cats. “We were so happy with the way we were playing there in the second quarter, I thought we possibly played the best we’d played all year.
“But they put a lot of pressure on us and we kind of caved to the pressure.”
Lewis, meanwhile, finished with nine points while grabbing five rebounds.
“It was real emotional,” said Lewis, who couldn’t deny thinking the elusive trip to The Pit might be slipping away again at times in the contest. “It meant a lot because we’ve put in a lot of hard work since we were freshmen.
“I’m not going to lie, there was a point there where I thought that, but we stuck through it and came out on top.”