Wildcats regain tourney title

Clovis senior Dominique Easterlin is fouled during the first half of Wednesday’s championship game of the Milk Cow Classic. CNJ photo by Eric Kluth.

By Dave Wagner

Guards Tizrick Phillips and Bud Willis each converted a pair of free throws in the final half-minute Wednesday night as the Clovis High Wildcats completed a comeback from a 10-point, second-quarter deficit and beat Rio Rancho 66-61 in the finals of the Milk Cow Classic at Rock Staubus Gym.

Senior Justin Pinckney earned tournament MVP honors and led four players in double figures with 18 points as Clovis claimed its fourth tournament title in five years.

Willis scored 15 points, senior Mario Caswell came off the bench for 14 and junior Dominique Easterlin added 13 for the Cats (13-1).

Easterlin and Willis were also accorded all-tournament honors, along with Rio Rancho’s Chris Williams and Jamaine Francois, and Richard Davis of Los Lunas.

Williams, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, took game honors with 31 points for Rio Rancho (6-3). His last basket, a layup off a steal, capped a 6-0 Rams run that made it 62-61 with 38 seconds left.

After Phillips’ free throws with 25.5 seconds to go, Francois missed a 3-point shot from the left wing. Willis grabbed the rebound in a scramble and clinched the win with his free throws after he was fouled by Francois with 11.7 seconds left.

Rio Rancho got going early, building an 18-11 advantage at the quarter and then converting 4-of-5 shots from 3-point range in the second stanza — three of them by Williams. But after the Rams opened a 23-13 lead early in the quarter, Clovis got within 31-29 on a basket by Pinckney with a minute left.

Francois then hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left to make it a five-point game at halftime.

“They’re going to make their runs because when they make 3s the points multiply,” CHS coach J.D. Isler said. “We didn’t feel like we played that well and we were just down five points at halftime. I think (Rio Rancho’s) legs got tired at the end.”

Caswell scored 10 of his points in the second half, including six in the third quarter. His back-to-back baskets capped an 8-0 run that put the Cats in front for good 44-40, then converted a feed from Willis into a layup to make it 49-44 after three quarters.

The Cats twice opened a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter before the Rams fought back in the closing moments.

Both teams shot less than 50 percent from the floor, but the Cats converted 17-of-21 free throw attempts to 3-of-7 for the Rams. After hitting 5-of-8 shots from 3-point range in the first half, Rio Rancho went just 3-of-16 the rest of the way.