By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
RIO RANCHO — Based upon results in the quarterfinal round of the Class 1A girls basketball tournament, Elida’s followers might suspect that their Tigers would stand a pretty even chance with Cliff in the semifinals.
But everything’s an inexact science in the state’s smallest classification, where teams from different corners of the state have few common opponents or reference points to compare. In direct competition, at least on Thursday, Cliff proved that the teams were far apart from each other in distance and on the scoreboard as the Cowgirls ran away early from the Tigers for a 56-34 victory.
Cliff (27-2) burst out to a 14-5 advantage after the first quarter and then outscored Elida (22-5) 18-6 in the second period en route to the win.
“I knew we matched up really well with them and I thought it would be a four-point ballgame,” Cliff coach Clay Means said. “But they couldn’t buy a bucket and we were hot.”
In the quarterfinals, Cliff beat Des Moines 51-40 while Elida knocked off Magdalena 45-33.
“We hoped for a lot closer game. We just got off to a real shaky start, couldn’t get in our offense. We’d make one pass and then try to shoot a three and that wasn’t going to work,” Elida coach Dan Howard said. “We couldn’t get them to settle down.”
Elida’s quarterfinal win came when the Class 1A field was playing at Rio Rancho High. The venue for the semifinal round, however, was the 8,000-seat Santa Ana Star Center.
Howard thought the bigger facility, combined with his team’s level of inexperience, may have combined to rattle his players.
“It could have been, a little bit. We’re awful young. We’ve got eighth-graders and freshmen who are starting, and I think it takes a toll when you get to this level,” said Howard, whose two seniors were Alicia Cross-Smith and Lindsey Ward.
Eighth-grader Reavis Best led Elida with eight points. Lindsey Smith, a sophomore, added six while Cross-Smith and sophomore Morgan McBride added four each.
Cliff’s Jennifer Agnew and Tristen Finch, each racked up 22 points.
The 5-foot-11 Finch was handful for Elida.
“That’s a great team right there. They’re well-coached and execute very well,” Howard said. “Our goal was to keep (Finch) from touching the ball and limit her looks. We just didn’t get it done here tonight.”