Tori Northcutt high-fives fans after Clovis beat Gallup 39-37 in a Class 5A semifinal at The Pit in Albuquerque. Northcutt scored the winning bucket on a rebound at the buzzer. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
ALBUQUERQUE — Fans were screaming and the clock was racing down when Tori Northcutt saw the ball bouncing toward her in the lane.
Northcutt grabbed a long rebound on freshman Antiesha Brown’s missed bank attempt — she had gone 7-for-7 to that point — and rattled home a shot from the lane as time expired to give Clovis High’s girls a 39-37 Class 5A state semifinal victory over defending champion Gallup at the Pit.
“The ball just came to me and I just happened to shoot it,” she said afterward, offering no hint of the pandemonium her shot ignited on the Clovis bench.
The Lady Cats (22-9), winners of 13 in a row, will try for their second title in three years at 2:30 p.m. today against top-seeded Mayfield (27-1), which rallied past La Cueva 55-48 in the earlier semifinal.
Junior point guard Telisha Joe had a chance to put the Bengals (19-9) in front with 9.6 seconds left, but she missed the front end of a bonus opportunity. Prior to that, Joe had gone 6-for-6 from the line.
CHS junior Ebony Bunton grabbed the rebound. After a timeout, Northcutt fed Brown on the low block, then moved in position for the carom.
“Nothing really comes to mind (in that situation), except shoot the ball,” said Northcutt, a regular on the 2005 state champions. “(Each tournament run is) pretty sweet; each year is unique. But this year is pretty nice, being a senior.”
It was the fourth year in a row the teams have met in The Pit. Gallup edged CHS 44-40 in last year’s semifinals en route to the title, while Clovis beat the Bengals in the quarterfinal round in each of the previous two seasons.
Brown finished with 16 points and Bunton added 12 points and six rebounds. Meantime, Northcutt finished with eight points, six rebounds and six assists.
“We had it set up a little different,” CHS coach Miles Watters said of the final play. “Tori made a great read and got the ball to Antiesha.
“Justice would have the ball in the hands of our senior on that play.”
Although they led most of the way, the Lady Cats managed as much as a seven-point cushion only once. Joe finished with 17 points and three assists to keep the Bengals close.
Veteran Gallup coach John Lomansey lamented the fact his team didn’t use either of the two fouls it had to give in the final seconds.
“We made some defensive mistakes that we shouldn’t have,” he said. “We let them get behind us a few times.
“I know Telisha feels bad about missing a free throw, but she’s a one-of-a-kind ballplayer.”
The Bengals erased a 34-28 fourth-quarter deficit, using a 9-2 run to take a 37-36 lead with 3:47 to play after two free throws by Erica Sowers. Joe scored seven points in that burst.
Brown made the second of two free throws to tie it at 37 with 3:28 remaining and, after the teams traded possessions, Lomansey opted to run almost two minutes off the clock before Joe was fouled.
Watters was just happy to get through it and reach the 5A state finals for the third time in four years — all against Mayfield.
Watters singled out sophomore Brittany Johnson’s defensive work against Joe. Johnson also had five points before fouling out late
“Brittany defended Telisha Joe really well,” Watters said. “It was a great team effort. John has a great team as usual; today the ball just rolled our way.”