Clifton Cubs boys basketball brings new style of play to the court with youth movement looking to make back-to-back trips to the Class 3A playoffs
CLIFTON – Coming off a banner season that produced its first trip to the playoffs in 17 years, the Clifton Cub boys basketball program came into the 2022-23 Texas high school campaign facing a rebuilding effort led by two seniors and a host of underclassmen.
After winning their first game of the season just before the Thanksgiving break, the Cubs split four games last week. Coming off a wild finish to clip the Rogers Eagles, 66-63, on the road last Tuesday, Clifton sandwiched a convincing 59-43 win over the Goldthwaite Eagles with two narrow losses to the Dublin Lions, 81-67, and the Early Longhorns, 37-36, at the Dublin Tournament last Thursday-Saturday.
Following a home game hosting the Riesel Indians at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday in the Clifton High School Gymnasium, the Cubs (3-5) will hit the road to play in the Hamilton Tournament Dec. 8-10.
“I’m excited about this group,” Clifton boys basketball head coach Tom Daniel said. “We’ve been smaller than almost everyone we’ve played, but we have some players who create instant energy.
“We’re looking to run every time we have the ball instead of walking it up. And we are playing a lot more man defense, and we’re trying to press the entire game too. It’s a little different style than what we’ve done in the past, and it’s fun to watch.”
Hoping to return to the Class 3A state playoffs for the second straight season, the Cubs opened the season with three consecutive losses, coming up just short in a couple of near misses. Losing four key seniors – Seth Payne, Griffin Phillips, Robert Goodman and Jorge Rodriguez – from last season’s playoff-qualifying squad, the young Cubs continue to search for consistency.
“The young guys are doing a good job, and they’re trying to figure out the new way we’re trying to play,” Daniel said. “I think we’ll be fine. We just need some more shots to go in.”
Opening the week on the road at Rogers, junior Andres Devora scored a season-high 24 points to lead Clifton to a dramatic three-point win over the Eagles that went down to the buzzer. Trailing by 10 points with less than six minutes left in the game, the Cubs outscored Rogers, 20-8, down the stretch. Devora sank a three-pointer with less than a minute to go to give Clifton the lead it would not relinquish.
“It’s always nice to beat those guys, especially on the road,” Daniel said. “It was good to see us respond in that kind of atmosphere. We just stayed together and fought back to win the game.”
After battling to a 26-26 tie in the first half, the Eagles soared to seven-point advantage with a strong third period. But the Cubs countered with a 26-point final frame to surge for the win. With Devora dishing out a team-high nine assists and grabbing five steals, junior Jacob Wells tossed in 13 points, followed by senior Jadyn Simmons with 11, while sophomore Ray Ochoa lead the Cubs with nine rebounds.
“If we could do that every quarter, I don’t think we’d ever lose a game,” Daniel said. “We played real well together, we forced a lot of turnovers, were able to get some points off of our defense and hit some shots down the stretch. Everything that could go right was going right those last five minutes.”
In the Dublin Tournament, the Cubs opened with a fast-paced loss to the host Lions as Devora and Simmons led Clifton with 13 points apiece, followed by Wells with 12 and Ochoa with 11.
“Overall, I feel pretty good about the tournament,” Daniel said. “I thought we competed well against Dublin. They are a team that has been playing fast paced for years, and we’re trying to start that this season. We were able to at least keep up with them. It was a single-digit game until Dublin pulled away in the end.”
Bouncing back from the loss, Wells scored 21 points to lead the Cubs past Goldthwaite and Ochoa added 13 more. Clifton finished strong against the Eagles to leave no doubt in their lone victory at the tournament. But against Early, the Cubs could not come up with the big moment late to win the game despite a game-high 18 points from Wells.
“Late in the game, we had our opportunities,” Daniel said. “The shots just didn’t fall, but it was a good game. Against Goldthwaite, we pulled away at the end, which was nice to see.”
Hosting Bosque County rival Valley Mills Nov. 22, Devora scored a team-high 17 points while Wells tossed in another 16 points as the Cubs used a strong second quarter to post its first win of the season with a convincing 54-44 home victory.
After battling to a slim 14-13 advantage in the first period, the Cubs outscored Valley Mills, 19-6, in the second period to build the lead Clifton would never relinquish. Sophomore Joaquin De La Hoya contributed 11 points, Ochoa came up with a team-high four steals and pulled down eight rebounds, while senior Makail Brandenberger fought for eight boards. Devora dished out five assists and grabbed eight rebounds, while Wells handled five assists and six rebounds.
In the season opener against Austin Veritas Academy Nov. 12, Clifton jumped out an early lead but saw it disappear against the Defenders in the second and third periods. Despite outscoring Veritas Academy, 19-13, in the final frame, it proved to be too little, too late for the Cubs.
Hitting on three three-pointers, Devora led Clifton with 16 points, followed by Wells with 14 while Ochoa tossed in nine. Simmons and Brandenberger topped the Cubs with six rebounds each, while Devora dished out a team-high five assists and Wells came up with five steals.
The Cubs followed that loss with a narrow 63-60 defeat at the hands of Round Rock Ignite Nov. 15 before falling on the road to the Lorena Leopards, 55-38, Nov. 19. Against Ignite, Devora led Clifton with 14 points and seven assists, while Ochoa tossed in 12 points and pulled down a team-high nine rebounds and Wells added 12 more points. Devora once again led the scoring against Lorena, tossing in 13 points, pulling down six rebounds and dishing out three assists.
“I’m looking forward to see what this bunch can do,” Daniel said. “It’s a fast-paced style of basketball, different from what we’ve done here in the past. And it’s fun to watch.”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & courtesy of Clifton High yearbook photographer’s KARSYN COSPER & SAUL COLON CRUZ
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