HITTING THE RESET BUTTON

in Basketball

After opening the season with 10 straight wins, Clifton boys basketball re-emerges from 18-day hiatus to open District 17-3A competition

CLIFTON – Despite getting shut down due to Covid-19 precaution protocols the week before the Christmas break, the Clifton Cub boys basketball team hopes to rediscover the magic that produced a 10-game winning streak to open the 2020-21 season when re-emerging from an 18-day hiatus.

With District 17-3A competition opening Wednesday, the Cubs will begin their quest to advance to the postseason for the first time in 16 years by hosting the McGregor Bulldogs at 12:15 p.m. at Clifton High School Gym. But with state-ranked Grandview gone, the district will have a new look following the UIL realignment.

According to the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches preseason district picks, Lorena (8-4) entered the season as the favorite, followed by West (7-1), McGregor and Troy. Lorena moves down for Class 4A, McGregor (2-6) and Troy (2-10) move in from District 19-3A, Riesel (6-3) crosses over after placing second in District 18-3A, while West and Whitney (6-5) return to 17-3A along with the Cubs.

“It’s going to be a dogfight every night out,” Daniel said. “We have Lorena coming into the district after moving down from 4A. Everybody we’ve seen looks solid. We’re familiar with Whitney and West and what they are going to be like. Troy and McGregor were in our district a couple of years ago. And Riesel won their district last year. But I think our guys are up for the challenge.”

After a rash of injuries in district stalled a promising start last season, the Cubs open the season with a fast break to a 10-game winning streak and looked impressive in doing so. Led by junior Seth Payne averaging 20.0 points per game, along with senior Luis Rodriguez, junior Griffin Phillips, freshman Bradin Yates, junior Jorge Rodriguez and senior Cameron Bateson, Clifton (10-1) has outscored opponents by 15.9 points per game.

Playing their third game in five days and short-handed on the road in Bruceville-Eddy Dec. 12, the Cubs saw their 10-game winning streak snapped by the Eagles, 51-39, before Covid-19 precautions led to the cancellation of two non-district games at Valley Mills Dec. 15 and at Hillsboro Dec. 18 before the holiday break.

With Payne participating in the UIL Area Band Competition, the Cubs could not keep up with the Eagles down the stretch as Bruceville-Eddy took control of the game in the third and put Clifton away in the final frame.

“I think the games earlier in the week took more out of us than I expected,” Daniel said. “We were also missing a couple of players who were competing in the Area band competition. But make no mistake, Bruceville-Eddy has a good team. They have one player who was really tough to stop.”

Senior Daylon Riley tossed in a game-high 23 points to lead Bruceville-Eddy while Phillips led the Cubs with 14 points and nine rebounds, followed by Jorge Rodriguez with 10 points and four steals. Bateson pulled down six rebounds, dished out four assist and came up with four steals.

Earlier in the week, the Cubs kept the win streak alive with back-to-back impressive home wins over Dublin, 74-57, and Rio Vista, 61-28.

Against Dublin, Clifton jumped out to a commanding 18-8 first quarter lead before putting up 24 points in the second period to build a 42-23 advantage before intermission. Payne produced a triple-double to lead the Cubs with 21 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals, followed by Luis Rodriguez with 18 points and Phillips with 14.

Then in a dominating defensive performance, the Cubs crushed the Rio Vista offensive efforts by limiting the Eagles to only 13 points through three quarters while putting up 50 points of their own. Payne delivered a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds despite being in foul trouble most of the game. But freshman Bradin Yates stepped up to score 16 points and pull down eight rebounds.

“Defensively, I thought we played great,” Daniel said. “They didn’t break the 20-point mark until late in the fourth quarter. Our second quarter was one of the best quarters we played all year. They’ve been playing well together, and they’ve been having fun doing it too. It’s been fun to watch.

“I don’t think anyone expects to win 10 straight to start. But I know these guys and how hard they play together, how hard they fight and how much they want it. So, it doesn’t shock me that we’ve gotten off to this start.”

The Cubs opened a five-game home stand in dramatic fashion Dec. 1 with a hard-fought 81-74 double overtime win over the Rapoport Academy Meyer Ravens behind a triple-double from Payne, who scored a season-high 28 points while pulling down 11 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists. Phillips added 16 points while Rodriguez tossed in 14 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and came up with a team-high four steals.

Trailing by 10 entering the final period, the Cubs outscored Meyer, 22-12, to force overtime, held their own to tie in the first extra period, before putting the Raven away with a 10-3 run.

After that wild contest, Clifton took care of business in a resounding 44-12 victory over the Class 2A Meridian Yellowjackets Dec. 4 as Rodriguez scored a game-high 17 points, Payne dished out five assists and sophomore Makail Brandenberger pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.

Rising to every occasion they faced during the streak, the Cubs took down the Class 4A Gatesville Hornets, 50-41, Dec. 5. Clifton jumped out to a commanding 24-12 lead in the first half, survived a strong third period from Gatesville before securing the victory in the fourth.

Luis Rodriguez tossed in a game-high 18 points and swiped seven steals, Payne added 16 points, a team-high five assists and seven rebounds, while Bateson pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds.

While losing the opportunity to play tournaments due to Covid-19 precaution protocols this season limited live game preparation before district, Daniel kept the schedule as full as possible.

“I don’t think it has negatively impacted us too much,” Daniel said. “During the weeks we would have played tournaments we’ve tried to schedule three games every chance we could. I think we’re ready to meet the challenge in district.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING

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