Cats earn desired Pit stop

By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer

Making the state tournament in Albuquerque is something they’ve been dreaming of since they picked up a basketball.

For Clovis seniors Michael Lewis and Cody Thornsbury, it’s taken four years to reach the pinnacle of high school basketball in New Mexico. Others, such as freshman Jaye Crockett, didn’t have to wait long.

All will get their first experience of playing in The Pit in Albuquerque today when No. 5 Clovis (22-5) plays No. 4 La Cueva (19-6) in the state quarterfinals.
Crockett said he’s feeling some nerves as game time nears, but also expressed confidence in his team’s ability.

“I knew it was going to happen from the beginning,” Crockett said of the Cats advancing to the state tournament in Albuquerque. “I have confidence in my team and our abilities.”

Lewis and Thornsbury have played varsity since their freshman years, while Crockett moved up to the varsity level from junior varsity last month.

Clovis coach J.D. Isler said like most teams the Wildcats have faced this season, La Cueva owns a size advantage over the Cats with five players 6-foot-3 or taller, including twin juniors Dan and Brett Koller.

The Wildcats counter with 3-point shooting, quickness and depth.

Isler has had success in the state tournament before, capturing Class 1A titles at Grady in 1986 and 1995. However, Isler is making his first trip to Albuquerque in his six seasons with Clovis, an experience he hopes will be a new starting point for the program.

“I am really excited for our players, because they have paid the price,” Isler said. “But we don’t want to be happy just to get there. We want to win and give ourselves the best chance at a state title.”

Even though its his first trip to state, Lewis believes each Cat will continue his strong play.

Along with Crockett, sophomores Arthur Calbert, Patrick Duffield and Stefan Mills moved up from junior varsity this season, and Isler said playing in the Pit will serve as an learning experience each can build on for future seasons.

“I think it’s real important that they get a taste of what success is about,” Isler said. “And then next year when they have a bigger role on the team, they’ll know what it takes.”