Hot start propels Lady Cats

Clovis High’s Mariah Sena drives to the basket past Manzano defender Adriana Saiz, left, in the round of 16 at Rock Staubus Gym on Friday night. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Clovis High’s girls wasted no time Friday in locking up the program’s fourth consecutive trip for Class 5A state competition to The Pit in Albuquerque.

Riding strong performances from senior Tori Northcutt and junior Ebony Bunton, the second-seeded Lady Wildcats cruised past Manzano 54-32 Friday night at Rock Staubus Gym for their 20th win of the season and 11th in a row.

Clovis (20-5) faces seventh-seeded Las Cruces High, a 61-58 winner Friday over Los Lunas, in a 9:45 a.m. quarterfinal game Tuesday on the University of New Mexico campus.

Northcutt, playing her final home game, went 3-for-3 with two 3-pointers in the opening period as the Lady Cats turned a 4-2 lead into a 21-3 margin early in the second period. Bunton supplied most of the necessary punch after that, finishing with 19 points and a handful of steals that Clovis turned into layups.

“I thought we had a great start,” CHS girls coach Miles Watters said. “I think they’re better than they showed tonight, but our pressure really bothered them.”

Clovis’ overplaying defense caused the Monarchs (6-20) problems all night. Manzano’s leading scorer, senior guard Adriana Saiz, scored all seven of her points in the first three minutes of the final period.

First-year Manzano coach Nick Salazar said before the game that he’s trying to turn around the losing mentality at the school.

“I just felt like overall we were out of our element,” Salazar said.

He said his team played better in the second half, but simply had no answers for the athletic Bunton, who knocked down 3-of-5 from 3-point range and at other times worked her way to the basket almost at will.

Salazar said he has his squad practice against the Manzano boys “C” team this week to simulate the speed.

“Ebony is probably the best individual player we’ve played this year,” he said. “We knew we couldn’t stop her. Our plan was to try to change defenses on her.”

Watters said Northcutt’s early scoring set the tone.
“They started out in man (defense) and went to zone,” he said. “When they went back to man, it opened up the dribble (penetration) for us.”

Freshman Antiesha Brown and junior Jasmine McDonald combined to go 7-for-7 from the field, and the 6-foot McDonald added five rebounds off the bench.

“Jasmine had a nice game,” Watters said. “She had some putbacks and got on the boards.

“We need people like that to step up (next week). That would really help us.”