By Dave Wagner
Portales High boys basketball coach Mark Gallegos is hoping this week for a repeat of 2001, when both the Rams and the Lady Rams walked away with Class 3A state championship trophies.
The PHS boys, who haven’t been to the state meet in Albuquerque since winning it that year, received the No. 2 seed in the tournament behind Grants on Sunday and will open against Cuba (23-3) in a 4 p.m. quarterfinal game on Wednesday at La Cueva High School.
Semifinal games on Friday and the championship game at 12:30 p.m. Saturday will be played at The Pit on the campus of the University of New Mexico.
Portales (17-8) captured the District 4-3A championship on Saturday night with a come-from-behind 49-48 win over rival Lovington. The Wildcats (15-11) were seeded third in the tourney, meaning the Rams would play Lovington in the semifinal round if both win on Wednesday.
“I felt we’d be the one or the two seed,” Gallegos said. “The disconcerting thing is you have a district team on the same side of the bracket. (But) nothing’s come easy for us, so there’s no reason for (that to change) now.”
The Rams, winners in nine of their last 10 games, have relied on defense all season and it saved the day for them on Saturday when their shots weren’t going in.
Chris Carter, the team’s leading scorer for the season, struggled through a miserable shooting night and finished with just four points.
“I was just trying too hard,” the senior guard said. “At state, I’m just going to try to have fun.
“It’s been a long time for (fellow seniors) Bo (Gabriel) and (Chris) Kirchner and me. It’s been a long time coming.”
Portales reached the regional round two years ago when only four teams advanced to state, losing to eventual champion Santa Fe St. Michael’s in overtime.
“I’d rather be a two seed,” Carter said. “We’re out to prove to everybody we should be a one seed.
“We’re really confident. I just hope we can go out and get three wins in a row and bring home that blue (first-place) trophy.”
Gabriel, who scored eight points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, said that with Carter and Lovington’s Ryan Hargrove held in check on Saturday, others had to pick up the slack.
“Kirch (13 points, six rebounds) stepped up big, and (Wildcats senior Jared) Swenson stepped up big for them (with 19 points),” Gabriel said. “That’s the best game he’s played against us so far.
“I think we’ve got a good chance if we come out ready to play. I think the only team that can beat us is us.”
Despite its impressive record, Cuba comes into state off a 76-65 loss to Wingate at home in the finals of the District 1-3A tournament. Cuba, which has Class 3A’s leading scorer this season in 6-3 senior guard Michael Kilroy at 23 points a game, and Wingate (20-8) are the bottom two seeds at state.
Gallegos didn’t quibble with the No. 1 seed going to Grants (22-5), although he thought it could have just as easily gone to his team. He said the Rams and Pirates met last summer during an Eastern New Mexico University basketball camp, with Grants winning by a couple of points.
“Grants is a very good basketball team,” Gallegos said. “You look at their lineup on paper and they’re very talented.
“I like our chances. I think we’ve prepared for this all year long. The kids are excited because they’ve worked so hard to get to this point.”
Class 3A boys
At Rio Rancho High School
St. Michael’s (18-9) vs. Bernalillo (19-9), 4 p.m.
Grants (22-5) vs. Wingate (20-8), 7 p.m.
At La Cueva High School
Portales (17-8) vs. Cuba (23-3), 4 p.m.
Lovington (15-11) vs. Pojoaque (19-7), 7 p.m.
At The Pit
Lovington-Pojoaque winner vs. Portales-Cuba winner, 9:45 a.m.
Grants-Wingate winner vs. St. Michael’s-Bernalillo winner, 1:15 p.m.
At The Pit
Semifinal winners, 12:30 p.m.