By Eric Butler: PNT correspondent
RIO RANCHO — The Clovis and Mayfield girls basketball teams have only met twice the last two years — both times in The Pit for the Class 5A state championship.
This season, the squads scheduled a regular-season meeting. But before that takes place, the Lady Wildcats and Lady Trojans will square off for the title of the Mel Otero Invitational in Los Lunas at 7 p.m. today.
On Friday, each team handily disposed of its semifinal competition — Clovis dumping Highland and Mayfield disposing of Farmington by identical 69-37 scores.
“They’re going to come after us, so we’re going to go right back at them,” Clovis junior Tori Northcutt said of tonight’s clash.
If it weren’t for the three-point shooting of Deeva Vaughn, Highland (4-2) might just have fallen into a 29-0 hole to start the game in a matchup of two 5A state tournament teams from a year ago.
As it turned out, three 3s from Vaughn helped keep the Hornets from behing shut out for the majority of the first half.
Meantime, Clovis (5-0) turned on the 3-pointer magic itself as senior Tori Quintana fired in four treys while senior Aimee Hilburn three and Northcutt two from long distance.
“We were just really relaxed and had open looks on the 3s tonight,” Clovis coach Miles Watters said. “They just all stuck it really well.”
The Lady Cats’ usual bread-and-butter, the inside game of Brittany Blackmon and the all-around play of Hilburn, worked to the tune of a combined 37 points, including a game-high 21 for Blackmon.
Vaughn hit a pair of 3-pointers with three minutes left to play in the first quarter to draw Highland within 11-6. But a 3-pointer by Quintana, who also finished with 16 points, started Clovis on a 23-6 run that lasted through most of the second period.
Highland was led by Vaughn’s 14 points and LaVainna Trammel added 11 more.
“I think we’re still in awe of the Mayfields and the Clovises. More than anything, this tournament is a good learning experience,” Highland coach Jon Ingram said. “The thing with Clovis, I mean everyone talks about them offensively, is that they take you out of everything totally defensively.
“They literally take you out of everything you’re trying to run,” Ingram added. “The pressure had us picking the ball up a lot higher than we’re used to — things like that.”
Mayfield knocked off Clovis in the 2004 state championship game, but last spring the Lady Cats got revenge in the finals — in a contest between unbeatens.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Blackmon said of tonight’s clash. “When we heard they were in the tournament, we thought we might get a chance to play them.”
Both teams enter Saturday’s contest not completely at full strength.
Clovis is hoping for two major contributors, Ebony Bunton and Vanessa O’Neal, to become eligible by the end of December. Mayfield’s Marie McGee, who has signed to play basketball at the University of Arizona, played in only her third game — after foot surgery — and scored only three points on Friday.
“We’re kind of excited to see what we have to improve on,” said Mayfield junior Carissa McGee, who scored 24 points against Farmington. “If we were to lose, it wouldn’t be devastating, because we want to get better.”