By Kevin Wilson
CNJ STAFF WRITER
With Jaye Crockett heading for a 30-point night, and the Clovis Wildcats up double digits a few minutes in, Wednesday’s Clovis-La Cueva matchup looked a lot like the seven straight wins the Wildcats registered coming into Albuquerque.
But the Bears had other plans.
Dylan Fritsch scored 18 points to lead three in double figures, and La Cueva held Clovis scoreless for 9:23 of the second half and rallied for a 61-57 win in Wednesday’s Class 5A quarterfinal game at The Pit.
Troy Ramos scored 13 points, including 3-of-3 free throws to give La Cueva (23-7) its first lead with 7:47 to go, and Wes Enns had 12 in what’s become an annual tradition at The Pit. Wednesday was the third consecutive year the teams met in the tournament, with Clovis winning a 2008 semifinal and La Cueva claiming a 2007 quarterfinal.
La Cueva’s win sets up a semifinal matchup with ninth-seeded Eldorado, which beat Hobbs on the road and upset top-seeded Manzano Wednesday morning.
Bears coach Frank Castillo said his team was able to rally from a 47-31 deficit in the final 12 minutes through a combination of things — a 1-3-1 zone that limited Clovis’ penetration, patience against the Clovis press and Bryan Blaine’s defensive work on Crockett.
“I just tried to keep him in my sight, keep a body on him all the time,” Blaine said. Castillo quickly replied, “You didn’t have a body on him on that dunk,” which ignited laughter from Blaine and his teammates.
The dunk in question came with about five minutes left in the third, and not on Blaine. Crockett drove past Fritsch above the 3-point arc, and threw down a one-handed flush over Ryan Castillo. It seemed like the exclamation point for Clovis, giving the Wildcats a 45-31 advantage.
Blaine’s defense didn’t keep Crockett from getting points here and there — the Texas Tech-bound post finished with 31, leaving him one shy of the Clovis High career record.
“I thought they were physical the whole game,” Crockett said. “In the second half, I just didn’t touch the ball as much.”
And that might have been the key to Blaine’s defense — it prevented the Wildcats from running the offense through Crockett, and Clovis coach J.D. Isler felt the Wildcats forced too many plays as they tried to adjust.
“We just had too many turnovers in the second half,” Isler said. “We probably didn’t get Jaye enough touches late, and that’s been a major goal of ours because he’s not just a scorer. He’s a really good passer.”
Clovis trailed by six midway through the fourth, but rallied to cut it to 57-55 with 44 seconds to play on a putback by Arthur Calbert, who had 14 for Clovis. Fritsch and Crockett traded baskets, and Enns hit a pair of free throws with 6.2 seconds to play to ice it for the Bears.
Isler tried not to dwell on losing the lead, and focused on the positives of a team that was at one point 13-9 but fought its way to Class 5A’s fifth seed.
“I told the kids only one team ends the season with a win,” Isler said. “They’ve really come a long way, and we won the district championship on the road at Hobbs. I wanted them to remember the things they did, and not boil the season down to the last game.”