By Dave Wagner
RIO RANCHO — The Portales Lady Rams have made a habit of reaching the Class 3A girls state basketball championship, doing it five times in a row.
District 4-3A rival Ruidoso, meanwhile, hadn’t even been to a state tournament in 28 years.
The Lady Rams certainly looked like the more experienced team Thursday, holding Ruidoso to just seven second-half points and pulling away to a 39-27 victory in a 3A state semifinal game at Rio Rancho High School.
PHS (16-11) will seek a three-peat and its fourth state title in five years when it faces Santa Fe Indian School, which beat Thoreau 55-53 in overtime in the later semifinal, in tonight’s 6 p.m. championship game at The Pit.
“Winning is never old,” 19th-year PHS girls coach Brenda Gomez said. “Our kids have done a great job. They’ve improved a whole lot, and we still have a ways to go.”
Junior forward Megan Kabrick scored 15 points and junior post Morgan Hill added 12 as Portales beat the Lady Warriors (16-13) for the fourth time in five meetings this season.
Sophomore guard Allison Rigsby had three 3-pointers and 11 points for Ruidoso, but didn’t score over the final 14 minutes, 55 seconds.
“We knew what they were doing and they knew what we were doing,” Kabrick said. “(At halftime) we were all encouraging each other to get up and play well.”
Gomez said having to play a team for a fifth time wasn’t easy.
“It was very hard to do in every aspect,” she said. “It’s hard to beat a team four out of five times. It’s hard to keep the kids focused.”
What looked like it would be a back-and-forth game began to turn in the second quarter.
Ruidoso opened a 14-10 lead after Rigsby missed two free throws, then nailed a 3-pointer after the Lady Warriors secured her missed second shot.
“We all thought, ‘Girls, she’s on fire again,’” Kabrick said.
But at that point the Lady Rams put together several high-quality possessions to take the lead for good.
Kabrick hit a driving shot in the lane, then knocked down a 3-pointer to put PHS in front 17-16. Hill added two baskets and Patty Terry one, and the Lady Rams led 23-20 at halftime.
Then after Rigsby answered Hill’s basket with a 3-pointer early in the third quarter, Ruidoso’s offense suddenly went into hibernation. The Lady Warriors scored only two more baskets the rest of the way against PHS’ 1-3-1 zone, and one of those came in the final minute of the game with the issue no longer in doubt.
“Sometimes the ball goes in the (basket), and sometimes it doesn’t,” Lady Warriors coach Greg Marez said. “I have to give credit to Mrs. Gomez. We couldn’t solve their zone, and we didn’t get any execution.”
Baskets by freshman Bethany Self, Kabrick and Hill extended the lead to 31-25 after three quarters, and two free throws by Ashleah Richards and a basket by Kabrick on a feed from Self pushed the margin into double figures with five minutes left.