By Rick White
ALBUQUERQUE — Three seniors synonymous with Portales girls basketball went out in style Friday as the Lady Rams captured their second-straight Class 3A state basketball and third in four years.
Kassandra Richards finished with her second double-double of the tournament with 21 points and 10 rebounds and the Lady Rams pulled away in the second half of a 63-46 win over Socorro at The Pit.
“I just went out and played hard in what will be probably my last game I’ll ever play, at least with these girls,” the 5-foot-7 senior sharpshooter said. “It’s our senior year and we wanted to go out No. 1.”
It was an emotional exit for seniors Richards, Roni Gomez and Erika Cook, the common components for the last two state titles. Gomez and Cook also played for the varsity team their freshman season.
“This year has gone by so fast,” said Cook, who finished with two points, seven rebounds and a team-high five assists. “You know it’s your last year and the next thing you know it’s over.”
Sophomore Morgan Hill added 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks as the Lady Rams (23-4) finished the season on a 12-game winning streak.
Sophomore post Audra Major muscled her way for 22 points and 15 rebounds, but she didn’t get much help from her Socorro teammates. The Lady Warriors (24-6) were making their first state championship game appearance.
Socorro coach Joseph Garcia said Portales is clearly the top Class 3A program in the state.
“If they could, they’d be playing for the Class 4A state championship and would probably make the final four in Class 5A,” said Garcia, who has led Socorro to nine state playoff appearances in his 15 years at the school.
Portales took control of the game with a 13-6 run over the first six minutes of the third quarter. The run included a Gomez 3-pointer and a pair of Richards buckets, one on an offensive rebound and the other a fastbreak layup off a feed from Cook that put Portales up 41-28 with a little more than two minutes left in the third quarter.
Socorro never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way as Portales spread the floor and drew the Lady Warriors out of their signature zone defense.
Portales led by as many as 22 points in the fourth quarter before Socorro made a late push.
“Once we were able to spread the floor, we were able to penetrate and dish the ball off,” said Portales coach Brenda Gomez, who won her fourth title. “On defense, we switched to a 1-3-1, which made it harder for them to get the ball inside to Major.”
Portales looked like it was going to run away with the game, methodically picking apart Socorro’s zone behind Hill and sophomore Joni Brakebill inside and Gomez and Richards outside.
But the Warriors climbed within 24-22 on Emily Armijo’s 3-pointer. Richards hit a pair of free throws and Brakebill hit a jumper from the free throw line as the horn sounded, enabling Portales to take a 28-22 halftime lead.
Winning the title was bittersweet for the Gomez pair.
“Now we can go back to being mother and daughter,” said Coach Gomez, who readily admits she’s too hard on her daughter when it comes to basketball.
“It’s one of the sweetest things I’ve ever experienced.”
Roni Gomez — sitting between her mother and Hill, holding the state championship trophy — couldn’t have agreed more.