Cats pull away from Mustang

Clovis’ Tizrick Phillips brings the ball over halfcourt against Mustang’s Gabe John during Monday’s opening round game in the Milk Cow Classic at Rock Staubus Gymnasium. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

By Dave Wagner

The Clovis High Wildcats needed a little time on Monday night to work out the kinks from a nine-day break.

With senior Justin Pinckney scoring 23 points, the Cats pulled away late in the third quarter to nail down a 77-48 win over Mustang, Okla., in the opening round of the Milk Cow Classic at Rock Staubus Gym.

The Cats (11-1) advanced to an 8 p.m. semifinal matchup today against Los Lunas (4-6), which beat Amarillo Tascosa 71-61 on Monday with a 29-point fourth quarter.

“We looked a little sluggish,” CHS boys coach J.D. Isler said. “I was disappointed in how we played defense. I thought we had a lot of breakdowns.”

Senior Mario Caswell and junior Dominique Easterlin each added 11 points and seven rebounds for Clovis. Pinckney grabbed six rebounds for the Cats, who dominated the boards 32-14.

“We didn’t play like we usually play,” Pinckney said. “It was a little ugly at first, but we finally wore them down in the second half with our (fast) break.”

Mustang (1-5) led early 4-2 and 6-4, but Pinckney’s 11 points helped the Cats to a 15-10 lead after one period. Zac Watters’ 3-pointer midway through the second stanza made it 25-14, and the margin never dipped under double figures after that.

Still, Mustang was within 40-30 before an 11-0 run over the final four minutes of the third quarter — fueled by seven points from Easterlin — put the game out of reach.

CHS finished the game 28-for-52 from the field (54 percent), led by Pinckney’s 8-for-13.

“I thought Justin shot the ball pretty well, and so did John Props (3-for-5, including 3-for-3 in the second quarter),” Isler said. “John is starting to shoot the ball well for us.”

Seniors Eric Harris with 11 points and Alfee Roundtree with 10 led Mustang, which went 18-of-40 from the floor and turned the ball over 17 times — 12 in the first half.

The Cats routed Los Lunas 63-24 for third place in the Capital City Invitational in Santa Fe earlier this month, but Pinckney said he expects a tougher game from the Tigers this time.

“We beat them at Santa Fe, but I watched them today and they’re playing with confidence,” he said.