By Eric Butler
RIO RANCHO — Chances over the past few years are that if the Portales and Rio Rancho girls basketball teams end up in the same tournament and they meet at all, it’ll be in a championship game.
The two teams, both nicknamed Rams, have met twice for titles in the St. Michael’s tourney — splitting in 1999 and 2000 — and, Saturday night, met for the second time in the title game at the Mel Otero Invitational in Rio Rancho.
As in 2001, the host Rams also took this championship game as Rio Rancho, defeated Portales 71-64.
Rio Rancho (6-0) utilized sharpshooting senior Brio Rode in a post role early in building a 16-8 lead. When Christine Sexson also posted up her defender and scored with 1:45 left in the first quarter, Rio Rancho had hit eight of its first ten shots for an 18-11 advantage.
“We knew that their post people are young and they’re going to be really, really good,” said Rio Rancho coach Bob McIntyre of Portales sophomore posts Morgan Hill and Megan Kabrick. “But chances are, nine times out of ten, a young post isn’t going to be able to guard Bri.”
Rode finished with 15 points while junior center Nicole Tatum excelled for the second day in a row – scoring 18 for Rio Rancho. Fellow junior Denise Kerns also helped the host team’s offense by tallying 14 points, mostly through four 3-pointers.
Portales (4-2), led by Erika Cook’s 21 points, fell behind by as many as 18 points in the second half. But the defending Class 3A champs cut into the 5A school’s lead in the end by scoring 12 of the game’s last 14 points.
Kabrick accounted for 13 while guard Kassandra Richards contributed 12 points.
Richards and Roni Gomez, Portales’ point guard who was beset with foul trouble in the finals, were selected to the all-tournament team.
“I think it makes us better to play good people under any circumstance,” Portales coach Brenda Gomez said. “I wish it could’ve come out just a little bit different, but I’m proud of the kids and I’m glad they got this opportunity to play them.”
Gomez wasn’t entirely pleased with the officiating, however. When Roni Gomez, the coach’s daughter, was saddled with her third foul in trying to prevent an underhanded shot in the post by Rode, the Portales bench protested and was assessed a technical foul.A similar situation in the semifinal game the night before earned Clovis coach Miles Watters a technical as well.
”It’s extra hard when she (Rode) has got you hooked and wrapped around and choked and everything else,” the Portales coach said. “So it’s a little extra hard to stop her.”
“You know, I know a lot of people were unhappy with the officiating,”
McIntyre said. “There were a lot of comments being made, but we feel like we can beat those teams whether we play here or play in Clovis or wherever.”
Portales and Rio Rancho are among the teams who will be in the field for a Clovis tournament shortly after Christmas. This time, if the two advance, they are destined to meet in the semifinals.
“They’re good teams, they’re excellent teams,” McIntyre added. “They’re also capable of beating us if we don’t show up to play.”