If Clovis and Eldorado meet again, a state title may be on the line.
That’s what Friday felt like, as the Wildcats escaped the intense battle with an 88-80 win over second-ranked Eagles at Rock Staubus Gymnasium.
Lathan Lieb scored 26 points to lead a balanced effort for No. 3 Clovis (13-1), which used a game-ending 14-2 run to win its seventh straight.
The Wildcats also got 18 from Craig Cook, whose 3-pointer with 3:18 left started the late burst. John Dawson scored eight, including a coast-to-coast dunk during the run, and dished two of his 11 assists on key buckets in the last two minutes.
“There were some big plays,” Clovis coach J.D. Isler said. “We’re down four, Cook hits a three. I really thought the steal and dunk by Dawson got our emotions going.”
Dawson credited senior reserve guard Trevor Jones, who had 12 points and six rebounds, with keeping the rhythm going while he battled foul trouble early.
“Trevor stepped up,” Dawson said. “That was a big game for him. He played to the best of his ability, best game he’s had all year.”
The Eagles, meanwhile, were up to task, as senior post Chris Strong got perimeter help. The 6-foot-7, 210-pound Strong scored 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting, and Neal Cullen scored a game-high 29 points with six 3-pointers — his final giving the Eagles (8-4) a 76-74 lead with 5:44 to play.
Eldorado only got two buckets the rest of the way, though, and had problems on transition defense late.
“You can look at it that way,” Eldorado coach Roy Sanchez said, “but I go back to the free throws we missed in the first half and the turnovers (18, compared to 10 for Clovis).”
Mark Winters added 17 and hit five 3-pointers, which helped the Eagles offset a light fourth quarter from Strong, who had to play tentatively with four fouls.
“He’s our leading scorer, our leading rebounder,” Sanchez said of Strong, who overpowered every defender Clovis used. “We definitely had a void in leadership.”
D.J. Blackmon added 20 for the Wildcats, who host Sandia Saturday night.
“The good news is we felt like we made a statement,” Isler said. “The bad news is we’ve got another game Saturday, and you can’t come out flat against Sandia.”