By Dave Wagner
The Portales Rams found a way Saturday night.
With their shots not dropping from the start, the Rams played well enough defensively and eventually got Lovington’s big men in foul trouble, rallying for a 49-48 win over the Wildcats in the finals of the District 4-3A boys basketball tournament at the PHS gym.
Senior forward Chris Kirchner scored 13 points and junior guard Daniel Aranda knocked in the deciding basket with 15 seconds left as the Rams (17-8) won a game in which they didn’t lead until just over two minutes left in the game — and never led by more than one point.
“I’m real proud of the team,” PHS coach Mark Gallegos said. “We had to scrap the whole way.”
Senior Jack Hale, whose practice time was limited over the past week due to a sprained knee, added 11 points and five rebounds for the Rams.
Kirchner added six rebounds and three assists. Junior guard Chris Adkins, who started for Hale, had a team-high four assists.
Lovington got 19 points from senior Jared Swenson, but no one else scored more than eight.
The teams’ sharp-shooting guards, Portales’ Chris Carter and Lovington’s Ryan Hargrove, were kept under wraps the whole game. Carter went just 1-for-16 from the field, although he hit two key free throws early in the final period and assisted on Aranda’s game-winner.
Hargrove, who had seven 3-pointers and 23 points in a 61-47 Wildcats win over PHS at Lovington, was shadowed all night by Kirchner and his teammates and scored only three points — all from the free throw line.
“I had my teammates asking me at times if I wanted to switch (to get a breather), and a couple of times we did that,” Kirchner said.
While the Rams were struggling to find the basket, the Wildcats (15-11) were hurt by foul trouble for their main inside players, senior William McBee and junior Truman Payne. Each had three fouls before halftime, and they fouled out 15 seconds apart early in the final quarter.
“We knew their big guys were in (foul) trouble,” Kirchner said. “We got them both fouled out, and we knew if we could do that and contain Hargrove and Swenson we’d have a chance to win the game.”
Kirchner’s 3-pointer from the left wing pulled Portales to 44-43 with 3:23 left, and he knocked down a short jumper on a feed from Aranda on Portales’ next possession to put the Rams ahead for the first time with 2:14 left.
The teams then traded the lead the rest of the way. Senior Bo Gabriel’s stickback put PHS in front 47-46 with 1:01 to go, but Swenson knocked down a pair of free throws 14 seconds later to give the Wildcats the lead.
After Aranda’s basket, the Wildcats got the ball to Swenson, but his 3-pointer was off the mark and bounced out long to Kirchner, who was fouled with two seconds left. He missed the 1-and-1 opportunity, but Swenson’s desperation halfcourt heave was well off the mark as time expired.
Both teams will find out today where they are seeded in the 3A state tournament, scheduled to begin in Albuquerque on Wednesday. The Rams are making their first trip to state since the PHS boys and girls both won state titles in 2001.
Portales 49, Lovington 48
Lovington (15-11) — Chris Hatcher 1 0-0 2, Angel Gonzalez 0 0-0 0, Ryan Hargrove 0 3-4 3, Kenneth Evans 1 1-2 3, Justin Black 3 1-1 7, Jared Swenson 5 8-12 19, William McBee 2 0-0 5, Tyler Graham 0 0-0 0, Andrew McCraw 1 0-2 2, Truman Payne 4 0-3 8. Totals 17-33 13-24 49.
Portales (17-8) — Cruz Ontiveros 0-0 1-2 1, Daniel Boan 0-0 0-0 0, Daniel Aranda 1-5 3-4 5, Chris Kirchner 5-9 0-4 13, Bo Gabriel 4-10 0-0 8, Tevor Ferguson 0-0 0-0 0, Chris Adkins 0-2 1-2 1, Chris Carter 1-16 2-2 4, Tyler Johnson 2-2 2-2 6, Jack Hale 4-9 3-3 11. Totals 17-53 12-19 49.
Lovington 11 17 11 9 — 48
Portales 10 13 7 17 — 49
3-pointers — Lovington 1-9 (Swenson), Portales 3-16 (Kirchner 3-4, Adkins 0-1, Aranda 0-1, Gabriel 0-1, Carter 0-9). Rebounds — Lovington 30, Portales 27 (Gabriel 7). Assists — Lovington 8, Portales 11 (Adkins 4). Total fouls — Lovington 20, Portales 17. Fouled out — McBee, Payne.