By Dave Wagner
A heartbreaking, last-second defeat at Los Lunas on Dec. 17 left Portales High senior Chris Kirchner and his teammates seeing red.
Kirchner scored 19 points and helped the Rams pull into a tie in the final minute, only to see Los Lunas’ Alex Stein hit a desperation 3-point bank shot at the buzzer to give the Class 5A Tigers a 64-61 win.
The Rams didn’t have long to lick their wounds. They came back less than 24 hours later for a 59-53 win at Moriarty, with Kirchner compiling 14 points and eight rebounds.
“I was pretty mad about the Friday night game,” he said. “We fought back, and then for them to throw up a shot like that, it was disappointing.
“I just felt like I was shooting the ball pretty well. On Saturday, I tried to take the ball to the hole (basket) more.”
PHS (4-4) has taken most of the latter part of the week off, but planned a light workout for tonight before leaving in the morning for the 51st Stu Clark Tournament at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M. The Rams face Santa Fe High in a 3 p.m. quarterfinal game on Monday.
The Class 5A Demons are similar to Roswell High, PHS boys coach Mark Gallegos said, in that they’re an athletic team with some size.
“They’ve got a nice inside game, and their perimeter game is pretty good,” he said. “They’ll press us most of the game, which I think is to our advantage.”
Kirchner said the team feels reasonably good about the season to this point.
“We’ve been playing good competition,” he said. “I think it’s helping us get better.”
Getting past Moriarty made swallowing the previous night’s loss a little easier.
“We got what we went up there for,” Gallegos said, referring to competing against larger-class schools. “The nice part was that after the disappointing loss on Friday, we came back well on Saturday.”
The Rams have two streaks on the line in this week — they’ve won their first-round game in each of the five years they’ve been in the tournament, but lost in the semifinals each of the last four years.
Gallegos said tournament directors re-invite teams every two years, and will do so after this year’s event. It’s the longest-running prep tournament in the state.
“We look forward to going up there because we play people we don’t usually see,” Gallegos said. “We’ll keep going up there as long as they offer us.”
In the opposite bracket, defending state champions Capital (Class 4A) and Bernalillo (Class 3A) meet in a first-round game, but Gallegos said Capital and Santa Fe are probably the teams to beat.
Portales is heading into a difficult stretch before the start of District 4-3A play in February, and expects to be tested with several games coming up against Class 4A and 5A opponents.
“Realistically, I think we’ve learned a little bit and grown a little bit,” Gallegos assessed of the season to this point. “This is where we’ll find out what we’re made of. The next three weeks will tell us where we stand.”
Stu Clark Tournament
At Las Vegas, N.M.
Capital vs. Bernalillo, 1 p.m.
Portales vs. Santa Fe High, 3 p.m.
West Las Vegas vs. Espanola, 6 p.m.
Taos vs. Las Vegas Robertson, 7:30 p.m.
Portales-Santa Fe High loser vs. Taos-Robertson loser, 1 p.m.
West Las Vegas-Espanola loser vs. Capital-Bernalillo loser, 2:30 p.m.
West Las Vegas-Espanola winner vs. Capital-Bernalillo winner, 6 p.m.
Portales-Santa Fe winner vs. Taos-Robertson winner, 7:30 p.m.
7th place, 1 p.m.
5th place, 2:30 p.m.
3rd place, 6 p.m.
Championship, 7:30 p.m.