Clovis senior Justin Pinckney scored a game-high 23 points against Las Lunas on Tuesday in the Milk Cow Classic. CNJ photo by Eric Kluth.
By Dave Wagner
After a one-year hiatus, the Clovis High boys are back in the finals of the Milk Cow Classic basketball tournament.
The Wildcats played a dominating first half and were never in trouble in turning back Los Lunas 79-67 Tuesday night at Rock Staubus Gym. They’ll meet Rio Rancho (6-2), an 82-68 winner over Santa Fe St. Michael’s on Tuesday, in tonight’s 8 p.m. championship clash.
Senior Justin Pinckney scored 23 points while junior Dominique Easterlin added 20 points — all in the first half — and a team-high nine rebounds as the Cats (11-1) beat Los Lunas for the second time this season.
“We had a really good first half,” CHS assistant coach Mike Hankins said. “Our defensive pressure was good. We pushed the ball well; (senior point guard) Bud (Willis) did a good job of getting the ball down the floor.”
Still, the Tigers (4-7) made much more of a contest of it than when the teams played in a tournament in Santa Fe earlier this month. CHS cruised 63-24 that night, shutting Los Lunas out in the first quarter.
“They played a lot better tonight,” Hankins said. “They’ve done a great job, and I think they’re going to do well.”
Easterlin, scoreless at halftime due largely to foul trouble in Monday’s first-round win over Mustang, Okla., hit all seven of his field goal attempts in the first half against Los Lunas. But he ran into foul trouble quickly when play resumed, and eventually fouled out.
“Dominique has a lot of talent, and if you come (out on him defensively) he can take it to the hole,” Hankins said.
Senior guard Zac Watters chipped in 12 points for the Cats.
Los Lunas led 2-0 an 4-2 at the outset before Willis’ 3-point play keyed an 11-0 Cats run that also included a 3-point basket by Watters and a 3-point play by Easterlin.
Fouled on a desperation 3-point shot as the quarter ran out, Pinckney sank all three free throws to put the Cats up 23-11 and their lead stayed in double figures the rest of the way.
Clovis extended its 46-26 halftime cushion to 24 points on several occasions in the third quarter before the Tigers mounted a late charge. They got as close as 11 in the final moments.
“Our kids have definitely improved,” Los Lunas coach Albert Aragon said. “In the first half we didn’t handle their pressure well, but in the second half we did better. And our defense was much better tonight.
“Clovis is an extremely good basketball team; they’re talented and well-coached. They just work you to death on defense.”
Stocky 6-foot-2 senior post Richard Davis, who was no factor in the earlier meeting due to the flu, had a strong game around the basket for Los Lunas and finished with 23 points. Junior guard Ben Ortiz added 11.