Working to find consistency with young roster and new style of play, Clifton Cub boys basketball team hopes to be in the District 17-3A mix for playoff berth
On the verge of taking an extended break for the Christmas holidays, the young and fast-paced Clifton Cub boys basketball team opens District 17-3A competition hoping to surprise the field and establish themselves as one of the teams to beat.
Straight out of the gate, Clifton (6-9) will be tested against one of the frontrunners as the Cubs travel to Maypearl to take on the Panthers (10-7) at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20. After advancing to the playoffs with a 20-win season last year, Maypearl returns with an experienced squad boasting seven seniors on the roster.
“Certainly, it’s a big game for us,” Clifton boys basketball head coach Tom Daniel said. “But I feel like the pressure is more on Maypearl playing at home. I feel like we can go in there to play spoiler, play free and have fun. If we play like we did against Troy, we’ll have a good chance to get the job done. We’re excited about the opportunity to go over there and play those guys. They are a good solid team, and I think that will be a good measuring stick for where we’re at in district.”
Expected to be a battle throughout the balanced district race, the inexperienced Cubs will have their hands full staying in the mix against the Keene Chargers (13-3), Grandview Zebras (9-7), Whitney Wildcats (8-6), West Trojans (0-9) and Waco Harmony School of Innovation (0-5).
“It will be a dogfight,” Daniel said. “It’s really hard for me to predict how everything will pan out. I feel like the top six teams are going to be in the mix. Whatever happens Tuesday will not make or break us. But we sure would like to get off to start, especially going into a little break.”
Following the game in Maypearl, the Cubs might not play another game until Clifton resumes district competition by hosting Whitney at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 3 in the Clifton High School Gymnasium. The Cubs originally had a non-district home game against Clarksville scheduled for Dec. 29, but the Tigers have since pulled out.
With two final non-district tune-up games last week, the Cubs walked away with mixed results beginning with a promising 51-47 home victory over a talented Troy Trojan squad last Tuesday. Clifton jumped out to a 34-21 first half lead, then held off Troy in the second half for the win.
Sinking four three-point shots, junior Andres Devora led the Cubs with 16 points, followed by junior Jacob Wells with 12 points while tossing in three from three-point range.
“We scored 34 points in the first half, and the shots were falling that night, for sure,” Daniel said. “We handled their big guy and made him work for everything he got. They’re a good team, and it was a good win.”
But on Friday, the Cubs stumbled against the Waco Rappaport Meyer Ravens. Despite leading by three at halftime, the Clifton offensive attack went cold sinking only five field goals in the second half while finishing two of 10 from the free throw line.
“We shot very poorly,” Daniel said. “We did play horrible, but we did not shoot the ball well. It was the worst shooting game we had all year. But we’ve already moved on to Maypearl. That’s what I told the kids. We didn’t play great, but the big one is coming up on Tuesday. If we clean a few things up, we’ll be alright.”
Coming off a busy slate in early December, the Cubs were looking to clean up some areas of their fast-paced style in search of consistency with a young squad before opening District 17-3A competition.
Playing six games last including five in the Hamilton Tournament Dec. 8-10, Clifton managed to post two victories. But despite coming up a little short in the win column, the Cubs showed some promising signs.
In an impressive 58-41 home victory over Riesel, Clifton jumped out to a commanding 24-8 first period lead and never looked back. With Clifton building a 45-18 advantage by halftime, Wells led the Cubs with 20 points while sinking six three-pointers, followed by sophomore Ray Ochoa with 12 and Devora with 11. Riesel rallied for 19 points in the fourth period, but it was too little, too late.
“The score really doesn’t indicate how much we dominated,” Daniel said. “We had a 31-point lead, but they came back at the end. We score 45 points in the first half, and I don’t think we’ve ever done that. The kids just played with so much energy. It was really exciting to see us play that well.”
In the Hamilton Tournament, the Cubs opened with a 75-50 loss to Class 4A’s 23rd-ranked Gatesville (13-1). The Hornets built a comfortable 36-19 lead by halftime that proved too much to overcome for the Cubs despite 14 points from Wells 14, 11 from Devora, and nine from senior Jaydn Simmons.
“I think for the most part we played well, but we had a hard time putting together a full game,” Daniel said. “Gatesville is a really good team. We had a lead most of the game against Eastland, but they hit some shots late to get the win.”
After losing a close contest to Eastland, 44-40, the Cubs rebounded against DeLeon for a nail-biting, 51-50 win. Clifton started slow, but stormed back by sinking 11 from three-point range. Led by Devora with 20 points coming off four three-pointers, Wells poured in 17 points by sinking five from three-point range, while Simmons hit two more three-pointers.
Despite trailing by 10 points after the first period, the Cubs outscored DeLeon, 20-6 in the second to take a 28-24 lead into intermission. Although Clifton kept pouring in the threes in the third, the Bearcats rallied in the fourth but came up just short.
“We got the win against DeLeon, but we started very poorly and fought back to win a one-point game. Andres hit a couple of key free throws, then Ray hit a bucket to give us the one-point win. Then against Early, they hit too many threes on us. Overall, I think the tournament was really good for us to get in four games over three days.
“But we have a few things we need to learn and get better at for sure. We need to be able to get stops more consistently on defense. Offensively, I feel like we’re coming along. We just need to be able to execute better. There are times when four of us are on the same page, and the fifth guys just isn’t. It takes all five guys.
“I feel like it’s going to be a pretty wide-open race. Maypearl will be pretty solid, and Whitney has a lot coming back. But I don’t see any reason why we can’t be in the mix at least.”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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