By Kevin Wilson: PNT Staff Writer
Many years ago, then-Lovington boys coach Art Karger joked with Portales girls coach Brenda Gomez that coaching girls basketball was like watching grass grow.
Tuesday night, Gomez and her players were able to return the joke to Karger — now the Lovington girls coach — by presenting him with a dozen potted grass plants during team introductions.
After Portales’ players — and Karger himself — had a laugh, the teams played a game that turned out to be a laugher, 64-20 in favor of the host Lady Rams.
Ashleah Richards scored 18 points to lead three in double figures, and Portales (16-6, 3-0 District 4-3A) never trailed in posting its fourth straight victory. The Lady Rams also got 14 points from Tara Johnson and 10 from Megan Kabrick.
Portales led 21-10 after a slow-paced first half, but pulled away with a 20-7 third quarter. Lovington (7-15, 1-2) helped facilitate the blowout by shooting 4-of-29 and missing its final 15 field goal attempts.
“I knew that (run was coming), but I thought maybe we could stay in striking distance,” Karger said of the first-half stalling approach. “With Portales, though, they bring good players off the bench that other teams would probably start. You can’t miss shots because you’re not going to get second chances.”
The stalling did have Gomez concerned at the half, because it wasn’t the style of basketball the team was comfortable playing.
“We only had four turnovers (at halftime),” Gomez said, “but I guess that’s pretty important when we have so few shot opportunities and they get a layup (off any turnover).”
It was a predicted move for Lovington to play that way, after losing 71-26 at home Jan. 20.
“Coach told us they were going to do that,” Richards said. “We just knew that when we got the ball, we needed to score.”
Gomez felt the final score was misleading because of Lovington’s poor shooting.
Portales shot just under 50 percent (20-of-42), and its fourth- and fifth-leading scorers both would have led the visiting Wildcats in scoring. Morgan Hill and Briana Hernandez each had eight for Portales, while Jenna Domzalski and Lilly Borunda each scored seven to lead Lovington.
Both teams play Ruidoso next — Portales is at Ruidoso Friday, while Lovington hosts the Warriors Tuesday.
In any case, Karger thinks the district race is a battle for second place, and that Portales’ success should continue after district play ends.
“I haven’t seen Socorro (20-0) yet,” Karger said, “but they’re going to have to show me something because this Portales team should be favored to win state.”
In the junior varsity game, Portales claimed a 62-29 victory.
Lovington 49, Portales 48
LOVINGTON — The visiting Rams failed to capitalize on a 31-19 halftime lead en route to its third-straight loss.
“Defensively, we give up 30 points in the second half,” Portales coach Mark Gallegos said. “We give up 19 in the first half and 30 in the second. That’s the difference.”
Portales (9-10, 0-1) had a chance to defeat the host Wildcats late, with Daniel Aranda at the line with 3.7 seconds left and a chance to tie the game at 49-49. Aranda made the first of two free throws, but missed the back end. A last-second putback attempt by Daniel Boan rimmed out at the buzzer.
Gallegos felt the game came down to more than just the final four seconds, though.
“We got the lead and we spread things out,” Gallegos said. “We got some good looks at the basket and we didn’t finish. We got a little complacent in the second half.”
Truman Payne led all scorers with 18 points for the Wildcats, while Reggie Hargrove added 11.
The Rams had ample opportunity to win, with a 12-point halftime lead and a 23-12 rebounding edge. the Rams shot 7-of-12 from the line, but Gallegos said the misses came at crucial times.
Jerrod Long led the Rams with 16 points, while Boan added 8.
The Rams next play Friday, when they host New Mexico Military Institute.