By Eric Butler
CLOVIS — Before the state AAU girls basketball championships began in Clovis this weekend, Albuquerque Attack coach Ruben Muniz took his daughter to Portales to visit his alma mater.
Muniz earned an master’s in business administration from Eastern New Mexico University in 1979 and his daughter, Megan, plays on the 12-and-under team he coaches.
To top-off the experience, the Attack held off a second-half charge by the Portales Sparks in a 40-28 win Saturday afternoon that moved the Duke City squad into the championship game.
But Muniz knows he hasn’t likely seen the last of the spunky Portales squad.
“We played the Sparks a few times last year — in the state AAU tournament. And we beat them in double-overtime the first time,” Muniz said. “But I think, in the series, I think they’re ahead of us — or tied. We know them well, their coaches, and respect them.”
The Attack jumped out to a quick lead over its old rival on Saturday as the Sparks struggled to get on the board.
It took Portales more than a minute running the offense before getting off a shot. The Attack, however, let less than 10 seconds pass before Larissa Reinhardt scored.
A 7-0 Attack run to start the game was finally ended when Portales’ Tara Johnson put back in a teammate’s miss with 11:47 left in the first half.
The Attack parlayed the fast start into a 24-13 lead at intermission.
“We like to press and we like the up-tempo game, but this is a big team. And we found out, the other times we played them, if we slowed it down a little bit, we have a little better chance at success,” Sparks’ coach Randy Knudson said.
Eventually, the tempo game worked in the favor of the Sparks as the Attack was forced into turnover over turnover in the second half.
After two baskets by Mariah Sena and one from Lyndsey Smith, the Portales group had cut the lead to 30-26 with 6:03 to play.
But Attack guard Desiree Baca bombed in a 3-pointer with 4:15 remaining, fueling a 10-2 run to finish the contest.
“They were just a good team,” said Johnson, who led her team with six points. “And we were doing good, until we just lost steam. We’ll just work harder tomorrow than we did today — because we just weren’t on today.”
The Sparks were forced into playing a game in the losers bracket Sunday morning at 9 a.m. at Clovis High School — a game they needed to win in order to get another chance at the Attack.