Sunday, February 19, 2012

With gutsy win over Clovis, Eagles prove they're back as a program

Brad Cox/News-Sun
Hobbs' Jesus Rodriguez, left, and Clovis' John Dawson dive on the floor
and battle for the ball in overtime during the Eagles' 88-80 win Friday.
  Electric might be the most accurate way to describe the atmosphere during fifth-ranked Hobbs' 88-80 overtime victory over rival No. 8 Clovis on Friday at Tasker Arena.
  The student section was packed and rocking – sporting signs, painted faces and plenty of black and gold.
  The rest of the Hobbs fans squeezed into the other sections and were loud – so loud, there were times I couldn't hear the horn on several occasions – as they watched their Eagles win the District 4-5A title.
  Sure, the excitement was amplified because it was Clovis, but there seemed to be something more about Friday night.
  It was a rebirth of sort for the Hobbs boys basketball program and an important announcement to the rest of New Mexico from the Eagles and 3,000-plus of its friends in Tasker Arena.
  Hobbs is back.
  Yes, throughout the season Hobbs had shown it had grown leaps and bounds from a season ago when the Eagles went 12-17 – the most losses for Hobbs since 1948.
  First-year Hobbs coach Mike Smith has re-energized his alma mater, there is no doubt about that. The Eagles began rounding into form as the district season approached as players started grasping the full-court press. Hobbs was 15-7 and on a four-game winning streak that included a 103-79 thumping of top-ranked Class 4A Goddard heading into district.
  But in the back of my mind during all of this I wondered how Hobbs was going to do against its rival Clovis. That was going to be the measuring stick to see where the Eagles truly stood.
  After all, Hobbs had lost seven of its last eight games to to its bitter rival. Last season, the Eagles were swept by the Wildcats in three games by an average of 22.3 points per game and Clovis was returning stud players John Dawson and D.J. Blackmon.
  Then Hobbs stunned the Wildcats 78-68 in Clovis on Feb. 3 in a contest the Eagles led by double digits for the majority of. It was Hobbs' first win in Clovis in five years and proved the Eagles were back to compete for the district title.
  There was no way Clovis was going to let the district title it had won the last two seasons go without a fight as the Wildcats had a chance Friday to force a tiebreaker game for the district championship.
  Clovis battled hard and overcame a loud Tasker Arena crowd and a 10-point deficit late in the third quarter to force overtime. The Wildcats had momentum and the Eagles were heading into overtime with leading scorer Aaron Ibarra on the bench having fouled out in the fourth quarter (Ibarra battled foul trouble all night and scored 16 points – well below his average of 25.7 points per game).
  This overtime was going to show what the Eagles were made of.
  Hobbs proved to be the better team (with team being the key word) as Austin Montoya hit a pair of free throws 23 seconds into overtime and the Eagles led the rest of the way. There were hustle plays by Jesus Rodriguez, key free throws and rebounds by both Dane Pannell (who stepped up big with Ibarra in foul trouble and finished with 28 points) and Earl Woods and solid play from several others as Hobbs clinched district by outscoring Clovis 16-8 in overtime.
  The Eagles played far from their best basketball Friday, allowing a lot of easy buckets while struggling in stretches on offense. Still, Hobbs found a way to win – the mark of a good team and program.
  The Eagles have now run and pressed their way to a 19-7 record  – an eight-win improvement from a year ago when Hobbs ended the regular season 11-15.
  But don't plan on the Eagles to rest on the accomplishment of winning district and improving so much from last season.
  Hobbs wants more, and I know I used this quote in my game story in Saturday's edition, but it fits how this team is thinking right now.
  "We've overcome a lot, but trust me, we aren't done yet," Pannell said. "We've got to finish the job and get a state championship."