ALBUQUERQUE —Clovis High’s boys certainly don’t make it easy on themselves, but they will be playing in their first Class 5A state final on Saturday since 2008.
On Wednesday, the Wildcats’ three college-bound senior stars — John Dawson, D.J. Blackmon and Drew Cole — fouled out in the fourth quarter — but the bench rallied Clovis to a 60-57 quarterfinal win in overtime over Manzano.
In Thursday’s semifinal clash, they let an eight-point lead slip away in the final two minutes of regulation, survived a 3-point miss by Eldorado star Cullen Neal at the end of regulation and went on to beat the top-seeded and defending champion Eagles 69-66 in overtime at The Pit.
“We hate living on the edge, but we’ve had two games where we’ve had to do it and done it well enough,” CHS coach Matt King said.
The Cats (23-6) will take a 12-game winning streak into Saturday’s 8 p.m. title match against Las Cruces, a 74-68 winner over Hobbs. The teams played Jan. 5 in Clovis, with the Bulldawgs taking a 71-58 win.
The fourth-seeded Cats kept Eldorado (20-8) in it with awful free throw shooting down the stretch. They went 2-for-10 in the fourth quarter, with senior guard John Dawson missing two shots with seven seconds left, and missing another pair with CHS leading by three late in the overtime session.
“It says a lot about the character of our kids,” King said of the two OT nailbiters. “We haven’t shot the ball well here in two games yet,”
Blackmon finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Dawson had 13 points and six assists — including two to Blackmon for breakaway dunks.
Cole, who sat out most of the first half after picking up two fouls in the first five minutes, finished with 14 points and six rebounds.
Blackmon said he wasn’t discouraged with Eldorado’s late comeback in regulation.
“There was no doubt in my mind we were going to win the game,” he said, “but I can’t say I wasn’t nervous.”
Neal bowed out at Eldorado with 19 points, including 10-of-10 free throws, but fouled out with 1:06 left in the OT. The Cats, notably junior guard Kamal Cass, made Neal work hard for his points.
“He’s the toughest kid I’ve ever coached,” King said of Cass, a football standout for the Cats. “He doesn’t care what anybody thinks. He just works hard.”
Senior guards Kane Martinez, who fouled out shortly after Neal, and Toben Brazier each added 12 points for the Eagles.
Both teams shot around 40 percent for the game, but Clovis posted a 55-38 domination of the boards.
“They just hustle,” Eldorado’s Zach Lee said of the Cats. “We needed to box them out more, but we just couldn’t do it tonight.”