ALBUQUERQUE — Clovis High’s boys showed just how quickly they can turn a game around in Saturday night’s Class 5A state final at The Pit.
Down by 10 points and with the game seeming to slip away, coach Matt King leashed fullcourt pressure on Las Cruces High. The athletic Wildcats used a 15-4 run over a span of less than 3 1/2 minutes to briefly take the lead, but senior guard Joseph Garza banked in a short jumper as time expired and Cruces never looked back.
The Bulldawgs got their bearings, held Clovis to just two points in nearly seven minutes of the final period and pulled away to a 61-49 win.
Cruces (24-7) put four starters in double figures, accounting for all but two of its points, in winning its first state title since 1976. Forward Trevor Noel and post Kai Williams scored 16 points apiece, while guard Gilbert Sigala added 15 points, eight assists and six rebounds and Garza scored 12.
“It just seemed like we couldn’t buy a basket in the fourth quarter,” CHS coach Matt King said. “We got good shots. We just didn’t make them.”
The Cats (23-7), who saw a 12-game winning streak end, got a big lift in their third-quarter surge from reserves Traivon Sopila and Willie McCray. Clovis forced eight turnovers and took its first lead since the first period when junior guard Kamal Cass scored on a driving layup off a turnover.
But Garza’s banker, over CHS senior Dijon Ford, may have returned a bit of momentum to the Bulldogs.
“That was definitely a big shot,” Cruces coach William Benjamin said. “I thought Garza made a few big shots tonight.”
The Cats had the crowd into it before that, turning the Bulldawgs over repeatedly once they came after them.
“They definitely got to us (with the press); they were stealing the ball left and right,” said Garza, who also had seven rebounds. “On that last play, they were up in the press and I got behind them. Dijon looked like he was going to take a charge, and I just shot it over him.”
Senior D.J. Blackmon led the Cats with 14 points and senior Drew Cole added 11. Senior guard John Dawson picked up a foul in the first minute, never really got going and fouled out with 2:40 left with just two points.
“We just couldn’t buy a bucket,” Blackmon said. “They just made big plays (down the stretch), and the better team came out on top.”
Benjamin said senior Kamryn Dixon’s defense on Blackmon was a major factor in helping Cruces dominate the glass 44-25.
“That was huge for us, keeping Blackmon (three rebounds) off the boards,” he said.
Clovis, looking for its first state title since 1979, got to the finals with a pair of pulsating overtime wins, but the Cats couldn’t overcome 34 percent shooting and the huge disparity in rebounding.
“I’m never going to diminish the effort we gave tonight,” King said. “We gave great, great effort.
“For these young kids, this weekend was something they’ll never forget and will be able to cherish forever.”