Lady Cats notch win in duel of champions

Clovis senior Brittany Blackmon goes up against Canyon’s Mandi Whitecotton during Monday’s clash at Rock Staubus Gym. (CNJ staff photo: Andrew Chavez)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Trailing by two points in the closing seconds, it was pretty evident that Canyon wanted Clovis High’s Jessica Russell at the free throw line.

Lady Wildcats coach Miles Watters said he didn’t mind that.

The senior guard made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 15.4 seconds left Monday night, nailing down the Lady Cats’ 49-45 victory in a battle of state champions at Rock Staubus Gym.

“I really felt good when Jessica was at the free throw line,” Watters said. “She just has that demeanor where she’s really even-keeled.

“Hopefully, this (win) will jump-start us and get us going.”

Senior post Brittany Blackmon scored 18 points, and senior guard Tori Quintana nailed a trio of second-half 3-pointers after the three-time Texas Class 3A champion Lady Eagles (17-4) went to a diamond-and-one defense to slow down Blackmon.

Blackmon carried the Lady Cats in the first half, sinking 6-of-9 shots en route to 14 points as Clovis opened a 25-19 lead.

Canyon’s Ranie Bocherdt spent the second half shadowing her. But the strategy opened the door for Quintana, who sank 3-of-4 from 3-point range in the final two periods after missing all three of her tries in the first half.

“I’m really proud of our focus and effort tonight,” veteran Canyon coach Joe Lombard said. “We took a little step forward, even though we lost the game.

“Clovis is just a great team. Miles does a wonderful job, and they have some super players.”

Canyon’s Mandi Whitecotton, a 6-foot-1 senior post and the only returning starter from last year’s squad, scored five early points but picked up her third foul with 2:33 left in the opening stanza. She sat out the rest of the half, and eventually fouled out with 12 points.

Cherilyn McMenamy, a 5-11 junior post, helped pick up the slack for Canyon with 15 points.

Lombard said he went to the diamond-and-one because of Whitecotton’s foul problems. “I thought it helped us stay in the game until she could get back,” he said.

Clovis took the lead for good on sophomore Ebony Bunton’s rebound basket 16 seconds into the second quarter. The Lady Cats led by nine late in the half, but Canyon got within 44-43 before Quintana’s final 3-pointer with 3 1/2 minutes left gave her team some breathing room.

“I think it’ll give us some momentum,” Blackmon said of the win. “I think we can prove ourselves by beating all these quality teams.

“Our guards stepped up; they hit some big shots and some big 3s.”

The Lady Cats worked around their own foul problems, with Bunton and senior Aimee Hilburn each picking up a fourth personal before the end of the third quarter. Bunton fouled out with three minutes left.

“They’re a well-coached team; they just execute well,” Watters said of the Lady Eagles. “Any time you can beat a team like that, you have to feel fortunate.”

Lombard has more than 900 wins in 28 years of coaching, the last 21 at Canyon. He said he thinks this team could have enough to make a run at a four-peat.

“We think we have a shot along with some other teams,” he said. “If our kids compete the way they did tonight, I think there’s some opportunities for us.”