Wildcats surge into title game

Tizrick Phillips scores on a layup over Pampa’s Clayton Hall during Tuesday’s win at the Milk Cow Classic tournament in Clovis. (CNJ staff photo: Mike Linn)

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

Trading baskets between teams wasn’t exactly the trademark of Clovis’ semifinal game with Pampa.

But in a game of runs, the Wildcats had by far the biggest — a string of 23 straight points in the first half — that was enough to force the Harvesters into playing catchup the rest of the game.

Clovis (10-0) moved into the championship of the Milk Cow Classic with a 63-52 victory over Pampa (12-5). The Wildcats will play Rio Rancho, a 69-68 winner over Valley, in the title game tonight at Rock Staubus Gymnasium.

In the Wildcats’ semifinal, Clovis trailed 6-4 midway through the first quarter when the long streak began. It started when senior Tigg Bunton hit one shot, was fed inside for another score by Devin Sweet and added two free throws just before the end of the first quarter.

Jacob Jones, who finished with nine points, then hit three of the next four buckets as the Wildcats began to pull away.
“We shot the ball better. We’re too good of shooters not to shoot the ball well eventually,” Clovis coach J.D. Isler said. “We really started to gel there for about a six- or seven-minute span.”

For Pampa, junior post player Jarrett Kotara went to the bench early in the game with two fouls. But Harvesters coach Jeff Reed said that wasn’t the only contributing factor from his team in the long Clovis run.

“He was out, but some of our other starters were out a little bit, too. They weren’t stepping it up and getting it done and I was making a point,” Reed said. “I didn’t care if we lost this game or not. January 14th is when it counts, when we play our first district game. These guys have got to understand that they need to do what they’re supposed to do — or they’re not going to play.”

The Harvesters, led by 13 points apiece from Clayton Hall and Sharod Young, used a zone defense to limit the effectiveness of Bunton — who scored 30 against Pampa in an earlier 60-53 Clovis win this season.

This time, Bunton finished with 17 points. But senior Dominique Easterlin, in particular, stepped into the zone gaps for 18 points to lead all scorers.

Easterlin also was the game leader with 11 rebounds as Bunton and Kotara — both 6-foot-8 — often negated each other.

“I knew he (Bunton) was going to have trouble getting to the rim. I knew there was nobody (else) as tall as me, so I would have the opportunity for some rebounds,” said Easterlin, who stands at 6-4.

Tizrick Phillips and John Props accounted for a single 3-pointer and six points apiece. Fellow senior guard Elliott Hita also scored five points for the Wildcats.