By Dave Wagner
CNJ SPORTS WRITER
RIO RANCHO — Most of the time, Clovis High’s girls don’t have to worry much about trying to come from behind.
In the few games where they had to do it, they were successful. This time, though, it wasn’t in the cards.
Fifth-seeded Volcano Vista built a 13-point lead early in the second half, lost it early in the final period and then rallied back for a 52-45 win over the previously unbeaten, top-seeded and defending champion Lady Wildcats in a Class 5A girls state semifinal on Friday at Santa Ana Star Center.
Senior guards Hannah Fenske scored 16 and Bianca Perez 15 points, respectively, while sophomore guard Deezha Battle added 10, including 6-for-6 free throws in the final 21 seconds to put the game out of reach.
“We came into this game knowing we had nothing to lose,” Hawks coach Lisa Villarreal said. “We just went out there and relaxed and played to the best of our ability.”
Junior guard Danni Williams scored 18 points for the Lady Cats, but Clovis went just 5-of-11 from the free throw line while the Hawks finished 13-of-14.
“It’s just tough,” Williams said. “We got behind, and we chipped and chipped (at the deficit) but we couldn’t get back.
“It’s frustrating when you work so hard and the little things keep you back.”
Clovis (29-1) fell behind 7-0 as it turned the ball over on each of its first two possessions and the Hawks scored on their first three, including a 3-pointer by freshman guard Kavionnia Brown.
“It was huge,” Fenske said of grabbing a quick lead. “I’m sure Clovis hasn’t been down like that much that early in a game.”
When Perez scored early in the third quarter, it was 35-22. The Lady Cats, though, held Volcano Vista to two points the rest of the quarter and finally pulled even 37-37 on two free throws by Shelby Jones in the final minute.
Williams’ steal and layup gave the Lady Cats their first lead early in the final period. Williams then converted two turnovers, including a steal, into layups for a 45-44 advantage with just over a minute left.
Sophomore forward Raven Herrera got inside on the next trip, though, and put Volcano Vista back in front with a layup. After a Clovis turnover, the Lady Cats sent Battle to the line for three 1-and-1s and she converted all of them.
“We were shooting terrible on free throws early in the season,” Villarreal said. “The girls have put a lot of work into it.”
With the Lady Cats struggling on offense in the first half and Jones and senior guard Brandi Gomez on the bench with two personal fouls, junior Dee Briggins came off the bench for eight points, all on stickbacks.
“I didn’t want to lose,” said Briggins, who added six rebounds in just seven minutes of court time. “It was win or go home, and I wanted to help my team. I had to go in there and fill Shelby’s shoes.”
The Hawks, who play second-seeded Mayfield in Saturday’s 4 p.m. championship game, avenged a 59-44 loss to the Lady Cats in January at The Rock.