By Dave Wagner
Now that they’ve finished off a District 4-3A championship, Portales High girls basketball coach Brenda Gomez is looking forward to a good seed in the state tournament.
The two-time defending Class 3A champion Lady Rams had a tough time with Ruidoso Friday night, but eighth grader Tara Johnson helped handle the Lady Warriors’ defensive pressure and Portales pulled away late for a 38-31 victory in the finals of the district tournament at the PHS gym.
Both teams had already qualified for the Class 3A state tournament beginning Tuesday, but the win should help PHS’ seed — possibly as high as a No. 1, Gomez said. They’ll find out who, when and where they’ll play on Sunday afternoon.
Despite a 14-11 record, the Lady Rams have played a quality schedule which includes wins over Class 3A power Las Vegas Robertson, Class 4A’s Roswell High and Class 5A’s La Cueva. PHS has won three of the last four state titles.
“I know our record isn’t as good as Grants or Santa Fe Indian School,” Gomez said. “But no one in 3A has played the schedule we’ve played.”
Ruidoso (15-13), which lost at home to Portales by 26 and 16 points but beat the Lady Rams on the road by eight during regular-season play, made a game of it most of the way this time as well. The Lady Warriors were hurt by 1-of-7 free throw shooting in the final period.
“It came down to executing a couple more plays,” Ruidoso coach Greg Marez said. “But that’s just the way it goes.”
Despite the loss, Marez is hopeful his team can also attain a fairly high seed.
“The competition we’ve played probably will (help us),” he said. “I think Portales should be a No. 1 seed, with Grants and Robertson (also right there).”
Portales went nearly 5 1/2 minutes without scoring before Johnson, who finished with eight points and six rebounds, came off the bench and buried a 3-pointer to pull the Lady Rams to 4-3. She hit another 3-pointer to cut a 12-6 deficit in half early in the second quarter and start a 12-2 PHS run, which she capped with a short baseline jumper.
“They’re a really good team,” Johnson said of the Lady Warriors. “I was kind of nervous for a while. The first time we played them they weren’t that aggressive, but they’ve gotten a lot better.”
Johnson’s biggest value to the team, though, was in handling Ruidoso’s fullcourt pressure.
“When she’s in there, (defenders) have to back off her a little because she can go past them,” Gomez said. “And she’s making good decisions on the court.”
Portales never trailed after taking a 16-14 lead on a 3-pointer by junior Ashleah Richards with 2:16 left in second quarter, although Ruidoso tied the game twice in the second half. Senior Patty Terry drove the lane out of a spread offense and banked in a runner with 5:43 to go in the game to put the Lady Rams in front for good at 29-27.
Johnson passed on a 3-point shot from the right wing, then found junior Megan Kabrick open for a 3-pointer with 3:26 to go to make it 34-29 and give the Lady Rams enough cushion to ride it out. Kabrick finished with a team-high nine points.
“I thought it was one of my better games,” Johnson said. “When I started out the year, I didn’t know how the girls were going to think of me, but when I got going (things) became easier and more fun.”
Senior Christine Brown led all scorers with 11 points for Ruidoso. Junior post Morgan Hill led a 31-16 Lady Rams domination of the glass with nine rebounds, while Richards finished with seven points, six rebounds and six assists.
Portales 38, Ruidoso 31
Ruidoso (15-13) — Allison Rigsby 3 0-0 8, Lynette Woodward 1 0-1 2, Katie Coronado 0 0-0 0, Kristen Miller 0 0-0 0, Jessica Gibson 0 1-2 1, Kara Sparks 0 0-2 0, Lacie Garcia 1 0-0 3, Jeanette Zagone 0 0-0 0, Christine Brown 4 3-3 11, Elisa Vigil 1 0-1 2, Beth Robinson 2 0-2 4. Totals 12-33 4-11 31.
Portales (14-11) — Tara Johnson 3-5 0-0 8, Rebekah Gonzales 0-0 0-0 0, Briana Hernandez 1-3 0-0 2, Megan Kabrick 2-6 4-6 9, Patty Terry 1-4 0-0 2, Bethany Self 2-2 0-1 4, Amanda Terry 0-0 0-0 0, Morgan Hill 3-7 0-0 6, Ashleah Richards 1-6 4-10 7. Totals 13-33 8-17 38.
Ruidoso 10 6 7 8 — 31
Portales 6 12 9 11 — 38
3-pointers — Ruidoso 3-9 (Rigsby 2, Garcia), Portales 4-7 (Johsnon 2-2, Kabrick 1-1, Richards 1-2, Hernandez 0-1, P. Terry 0-1). Rebounds — Ruidoso 16, Portales 31 (Hill 9). Assists — Ruidoso 7, Portales 9 (Richards 6). Total fouls — Ruidoso 17, Portales 9. Fouled out — none.