By Kevin Wilson
Youth edged out experience Saturday at Portales, as Clovis won the first battle in what could be a season-long war.
Sophomore Aimee Hilburn had a game-high 22 points, and fellow 10th-grader Tori Quintana hit a 3-pointer in a 9-1 run that helped the Lady ‘Cats steal a 61-59 win Saturday night against the Lady Rams.
Saturday’s contest was the first of two scheduled contests between 5A Clovis and the defending 3A champ Lady Rams, but the teams could face each other two additional times if things break right in the Mel Otero Tournament (Rio Rancho) this weekend and the Plateau Classic in Clovis later this month.
“Portales is as good as any team in the state, regardless of class,” Clovis coach Miles Watters said. “I said that before (tonight) and I still believe that. It’s a good battle in this part of the state.”
Quintana had nine of her 17 points in the fourth quarter, and sophomore Brittany Blackmon scored 10 as Clovis’ sophomore trio accounted for 49 of the team’s 61 total points.
“Hilburn carried us in the first half, Quintana hit some big shots, and Blackmon came up huge,” Watters said. “Those three really stepped up.”
A fourth-quarter charge helped Clovis stay perfect (4-0), while Portales dropped to 1-1.
The host Lady Rams led through much of the contest, capitalizing on offensive rebounds and early fouls on Clovis.
With Blackmon missing the final six minutes of the third after picking up her fourth foul, Hillburn scored six points during to keep the Lady ‘Cats within striking distance leading up to the fourth quarter.
Portales led 46-40 early in the fourth after a driving layup by senior Erika Cook, but Quintana answered back with a trey on one possession and a trio of free throws after Cook fouled her on a baseline 3-point attempt.
“I think we had two times that we let down on defense and they scored,” Portales coach Brenda Gomez said, “and that foul they called on Erika was hideous.”
After Roni Gomez scored on a putback, two of Portales 18 second-chance points on the night, the Lady Rams led 50-46. That’s when the Clovis sophomores took over.
Blackmon found Roxanne Luera for a jumper, then Quintana hit a 3-pointer 16 seconds later to give Clovis its first lead of the second half. After Blackmon scored a pair of baskets to offset scores from Portales’ Ashleah Richards, Hilburn and Quintana both hit a pair of free throws to seemingly ice the game at 59-53.
Despite its late charge, Clovis didn’t quite seal the game. Kassandra Richards hit a right-corner 3-pointer to make the score 61-58, then Ashleah Richards was fouled after Blackmon and Monique Walker missed a pair of point-blank shots after beating the press.
Ashleah Richards hit the first of two free throws, and her second miss resulted in a jump ball for Portales. The Richards sisters combined for Portales’ final nine points, but Ashleah Richards’ baseline jumper on the inbounds play fell short.
Despite the loss, Coach Gomez felt good about the prospects for the rest of the season.
“Looking at their size and quickness to our size and quickness, we played good,” Gomez said. “They should have destroyed us, but I think our kids played really hard.
“You don’t like to lose, but I’d rather play a game like this every night than the (63-23 win) against Artesia.”
Kassandra Richards scored 14 to lead four Portales players in double figures, including 13 each from Megan Kabrick and Kassandra Richards and 11 from Cook.
Both teams will return to action Tuesday. Clovis hosts Levelland, while Portales hosts Roswell.
Clovis defeated Portales 41-27 in the junior varsity contest.