IN SOME GOOD COMPANY

in Boys Basketball/Winter Sports

With their first playoff berth since 2005 hanging in the balance, the Class 3A Clifton Cubs head into the regular season home stretch to face the best of District 17-3A

WEST — While it has been unfamiliar territory for the Clifton Cub boys basketball program over the last 17 years, earning a trip to the Texas high school basketball postseason tournament stands in sight. And to move into that position, the Cubs have come full circle back to what could arguably be considered the turning point of the season.

Riding a four-game winning streak, Clifton heads into the home stretch of the regular season with three games left against the best District 17-3A has to offer.

Coming off a forfeited win over Waco Harmony School of Innovation rather than reschedule following the postponements last Friday due to the ice and snow winter weather event across Central Texas, the Cubs (8-3 in district, 21-6 overall) hit the road looking for a sweep of the fourth place West Trojans (7-4, 15-10) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to clinch their first playoff berth since 2005. Clifton knocked off West, 49-34, at home in the first round of District 17-3A competition.

Going into Tuesday’s key matchup, the Cubs stand tied for second place with Whitney (8-3, 18-10) behind the 13th-ranked Lorena Leopards (11-0, 17-13) while West remains just a game back and the fifth place McGregor Bulldogs (5-6, 12-19) barely cling to some hope for the playoffs. A win by Clifton or a loss by McGregor during the final three district games would clinch the spot for the Cubs.

Clifton took control of its postseason destiny by knocking off McGregor, 62-46, to open the second round Jan. 25 at the Clifton High Gymnasium, avenging a first round loss to the Bulldogs. The Cubs flipped the tables on the Bulldogs (5-6, 12-19) by building a 27-point lead with 4:17 left in the game before coasting to victory.

Senior Seth Payne led Clifton with 22 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four steals, followed by senior Griffin Phillips with 14 and sophomore Bradin Yates with 13, while sophomore Andres Devora dished out six assists and grabbed three steals.

“That win was huge,” Clifton boys basketball head coach Tom Daniel said. “It puts us in the top four in the standings. They got us the first time, but they sure didn’t tonight. The kids played great, got us a 27-point lead at one point and shut down their best player holding him to only six points. I’m just real proud of the way these guys came out and played.

“Our energy level was through the roof. Honestly, all 11 guys played hard, and they were vocal from the bench, they had a lot of fun out there. I believe good things are coming for these guys.”

Using the McGregor win as a springboard, the Cubs continued to build momentum with a dominating 69-39 home victory over the Riesel Indians Jan. 28. After building a comfortable 31-16 advantage before halftime, Clifton kept its collective foot on the pedal in the second half and slammed the door shut on Riesel (3-8, 12-13) with an overwhelming 22-point fourth quarter.

Hitting eight of 13 shots from the field, Payne once again led the Cubs with 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, followed by Phillips with 14 points, along with seniors Robert Goodman and Jorge Rodriguez tossing in 11 points each while Devora dished out five assists.

Facing a perennially tough opponent on the road last Tuesday, the Cubs battled through a hard-fought first half before using a strong third period to secure a 46-36 victory over the Troy Trojans (2-9, 13-17). Clinging to a three-point lead at intermission, Clifton outscored the Trojans, 13-6, in the third and held on for the 10-point win.

Going a perfect six-for-six from two-point field goal range, Payne led the Cubs with 20 points, followed by Rodriguez with nine, Phillips with seven and Devora with five points and five assists. Yates pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds, followed by Payne with seven boards, three assists and four steals.

In the first round of district, the Cubs extended their win streak to four straight by knocking off West, 49-34, to move into sole possession of second place behind Lorena. After battling to a slim 14-13 lead in the first quarter, the Cubs went on a 10-2 run in the second period and continued to attack the Trojans  in the second half to secure the win.

“Beating West was a big win for us and put us in good position to make a run at a playoff spot,” Daniel said. “We did a great job defensively, and we held their top scorer to only three points. It was a good team effort, the kind of effort we need to continue winning against good teams.”

Despite facing a scheduling gauntlet to wrap up the regular season, the Cubs only need one win in the final three games to clinch the long-awaited playoff berth.

“It would be great, especially for this group of six senior we have,” Daniel said. “They have been working hard for this, and these youngsters have been helping them out. So, it’s super exciting right now, we’re in a good spot. We just need to keep winning.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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