By Dave Wagner
CLOVIS — The Portales Lady Rams have knocked off one Class 5A giant, and now another one waits.
Senior post Morgan Hill scored 12 points and managed to get 6-foot-7 Gallup senior Valerie Kast out of the game on fouls, and the Lady Rams advanced to the finals of Clovis’ Plateau Holiday Classic on Thursday with a 37-36 victory at Rock Staubus Gym.
Portales (8-4) takes on host Clovis in today’s 6 p.m. championship game after the Lady Wildcats rolled over La Cueva 69-40 in the late semifinal matchup. The Lady Bengals (9-2) face La Cueva at 2:30 p.m. for third place.
Lady Rams coach Brenda Gomez said she figured the best way to play Kast, a University of New Mexico signee, was to pull her away from the basket.
Hill, who is 6-1 and recently signed to play college ball at Navy, said it took some getting used to playing away from the basket.
“Coach had me play a guard (position), which I hadn’t done any time recently,” she said. “I was excited to play against Valerie. Gallup’s always a pretty good (Class) 5A team, and we wanted to see what we could do against them.”
Hill hit twice from outside and junior guard Briana Hernandez contributed seven points, including a 3-pointer, as Portales opened a 12-7 lead late in the first quarter. Gallup scored twice in the final 10 seconds of the period, though, and the game stayed close the rest of the way.
Hill scored over Kast from the lane with 1:44 left to put Portales in front 36-34. Kast then missed from in close and, with Portales spreading its offense, picked up her fifth foul near midcourt on Hill with 50 seconds left.
Tara Johnson’s free throw made it a three-point lead before Gallup’s Lachelle Begay scored on a driving shot.
Hill was fouled with 30 seconds to go and missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but sophomore Bethany Self partially blocked a driving shot in the land by Gallup’s Telishia Joe and a held ball went to the Lady Rams with less than a second left.
“Morgan did a super job against (Kast) on offense and defense, and Bethany did a great job on her too,” Gomez said. “We felt like we could definitely play them man(-to-man on defense). On offense, we pulled Morgan out (from the basket) because she’s been passing pretty well.”
Kast and senior guard Cherelle Rosales scored 13 points apiece for the Lady Bengals. After Kast scored the game’s first basket, Rosales tallied Gallup’s next 11 points.
“It was just a total team effort,” Gomez said. “I felt like every person that put on a uniform today made a difference for us, whether it was offering encouragement from the bench or something on the court.”
PLATEAU HOLIDAY CLASSIC
Moriarty 44, Ysleta 31
Farmington 66, Eldorado 61, OT
Portales 37, Gallup 36
Clovis 68, La Cueva 40
Ysleta vs. Eldorado, 7th place, noon
Moriarty vs. Farmington, 5th place, 9:30 a.m.
Gallup vs. La Cueva, 3rd place, 2:30 p.m.
Portales vs. Clovis, championship, 6 p.m.