By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
ALBUQUERQUE — A fluke play helped end Clovis High’s season on Wednesday in the Wildcats’ first trip to The Pit since playing for the Class 5A boys state title in 2001.
A wild final minute — and a freak turnover when the Cats were trying to get a timeout — set the stage for Jaron McIntosh’s game-winning runner in the lane with three seconds left to give La Cueva a 62-60 win in a 5A quarterfinal game.
Michael Lewis’ two free throws gave the Cats (23-6) their first lead since late in the half, and junior guard Bryce Hill appeared to seal the victory by blocking Matt Nordaker’s jumper, grabbing the loose ball, and drawing a foul with 20 seconds left.
But Hill, an 82-percent foul shooter, missed both attempts and Lewis fouled out on the other end trying to stop La Cueva post Dan Koller. Koller hit two free throws to tie the game.
“We have ourselves to blame,” CHS coach J.D. Isler said. “We had the lead and were at the free-throw line. Even when we missed the free throws, I thought we’d be all right.”
An inbounds pass came to Jaden Isler, who had his back turned trying to see if the Cats had been given a timeout. La Cueva’s Chris Cordova grabbed the ball, setting the stage for McIntosh’s heroics after a timeout.
“Jaden tried to see if we got the timeout, and the ball hits him in the shoulder,” Coach Isler said. “We didn’t take care of the ball today, and they’re good enough to take advantage of it.”
Clovis was unable to get a shot off in the 2.7 seconds that remained after McIntosh’s game-winner.
The Cats struggled with their shooting (19-of-55, 35 percent), but their tenacious defense helped them come back from a 10-point deficit with less than five minutes to go.
“Our kids have done that all year,” coach Isler said. “We never felt like we were out of the game.
“You just hate to lose when you have the lead and the ball (that late in the game).”
La Cueva (20-6) dominated the boards 54-32 as Dan Koller and his twin brother, Brett, grabbed 10 rebounds apiece and Nordaker added nine.
“What it comes down to is we caught a break at the end,” said Frank Castillo, who has been La Cueva’s coach since the school opened in 1986. “If that game goes another 10 seconds, it could’ve gone the other way.”
Dan Koller finished with 17 points, McIntosh added 15 and Chris Cordova scored 13.
“We thought Brett and Dan were going to be really important with the rebounding, and it turned out to be that way,” Castillo said.
Jaden Isler led four starters in double figures with 17 points, and he also collected five assists. Lewis and Hill finished with 13 each, while senior guard Cody Thornsbury had 10.