By Peter Stein
Staff writer 

Clovis get No. 2


February 24, 2019

CLOVIS — The Clovis boys basketball team likes playing at Rock Staubus Gymnasium. The Wildcats like having their crowd behind them, like feeding off the energy. They certainly like not having to ride hours through desert or plains to play games.

With Friday’s 49-44 victory over Roswell in the regular-season finale for both teams, Clovis bought itself some more time at the Rock. The Wildcats assured themselves of the District 4-5A tournament’s No. 2 seed, meaning they’ll play a district semifinal at home on Thursday. And, they may have also locked down a first-round home game for the state tournament.

“Tonight was a super-important night,” Clovis head coach Jaden Isler said. “Getting the 2-seed and getting to 18-8 (overall), I think that gives us a really good chance to get a 7- or an 8-seed in the state playoffs, and that gives us a home game here. And we’ve been really tough at home; we’ve lost one game to Volcano Vista here all season.”

“It was a big win,” Clovis junior forward Ethan Gershon said, “because I think this puts us in second (in district). If we would’ve lost, we would’ve been in third and we might’ve had to play an away game.”

Clovis improved to 4-2 against district opponents, led by Gershon, whose 13 points made him the only Wildcat to reach double figures. And Gershon was also an integral part of a late-third-quarter stretch where Clovis grabbed the lead for good.

The Wildcats’ comeback, though, had been ignited a little earlier in the third.

A three-point set shot by Roswell’s Tarren Burrola had sunk the ’Cats into their biggest deficit of the night, 32-27, and they risked falling even farther behind by missing on the other end.

But then, up popped Julian Urioste — one of four soon-to-depart seniors honored before the game, along with Anthony Gutierrez, Jacob Moon and Montez Wright. After the Wildcat miss, Urioste scrapped for an offensive rebound and fed Jaden Phillips, who was fouled while going up for a shot. Phillips calmly sank both free-throw attempts and narrowed the gap to 32-29.

Urioste registered a block on the other end, but Roswell’s Alonzo Acosta wound up at the line and hit one of two foul shots to put the Coyotes ahead by four.

Then it was time for Gershon to shine. His baseline jumper brought the ’Cats within 33-31, and he snagged a defensive board on the other end, creating a possession that ended with him burying a right-corner trey and lifting Clovis ahead for the first time since late in the second quarter.

Gershon quickly followed that with a steal and basket, increasing the Wildcats’ lead to 36-33.

With 2.3 seconds to go in the third period, Roswell’s Dominic Nava scored and was fouled in the process, heading to the line with a chance to tie it at 36. Nava missed the attempt, however, and Jaden Phillips secured the defensive rebound, making sure the Coyotes wouldn’t get off a last-second shot that could potentially give them the lead to end the third.

After Roswell was unable score with the fourth quarter’s opening possession, Blake Muscato made good for Clovis on the other end, hitting a left-elbow three that increased the Wildcats’ edge to 39-35. And they stayed in front the rest of the way, leading by no more than eight (48-40), but no less than three (41-38, 43-40) during the game’s remainder.

It was a big night at the Rock that might lead to even bigger nights at the Rock. Friday’s comeback victory could bode well for the Wildcats and their ability to pull through in more critical postseason situations.

Yet according to Isler, Friday’s clutch performance was one for the same-old, same-old file.

“We’ve been in a lot of close games this year,” he said. “We’ve played a lot of the top talent in the state and been in some really tight games, and in the majority of those games we’ve been able to come back and find a way to win.”


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