PHS starts tourney play

By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers

CLOVIS — Portales High girls basketball coach Brenda Gomez isn’t happy to be 3-5, but the Lady Rams have had some extenuating circumstances.

First, they graduated several key players from last year’s Class 3A state championship team, including Morgan Hill and Megan Kabrick, both of whom are now playing in college.

Then they lost sophomore guard Tara Johnson, a regular since she was in eighth grade, to a torn ACL during summer basketball.

There’s also the fact that the Lady Rams’ early schedule is, as usual, loaded with Class 4A and 5A teams.

Gomez acknowledges it’s been challenging, but with Johnson scheduled to return to action for this weekend’s Plateau Holiday Classic in Clovis things could start looking up.

The Lady Rams take on Class 5A La Cueva in a 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal game today at Rock Staubus Gym.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Gomez said. “The competition gets better all the time. I just hope we compete and get better with every game.”

Meantime, the Portales boys (3-2) take on three-time defending champion Santa Fe Capital at 1 p.m. today in the quarterfinals of the Stu Clark Invitational in Las Vegas, hosted by New Mexico Highlands.

Gomez said Johnson is chomping at the bit.

“She’s excited to get started,” Gomez said. “But she’s kind of nervous about whether she can do the things she thinks she can do.”

Gomez said with Johnson on one wing and senior Briana Hernandez on the other, the Lady Rams should have a good 1-2 punch from the perimeter.

Portales beat La Cueva in a quarterfinal game here two years ago en route to a third-place tournament finish. Last year, the Lady Rams lost to Clovis 45-34 in the finals.

She said she doesn’t know much about La Cueva.

“I just know they’re huge,” Gomez said. “We’ll try to put pressure on them, and (in halfcourt) pack our defense in and see if they can shoot from the outside.”

PHS boys coach Mark Gallegos said if the Rams can find a way to beat Capital, they’ll have a decent chance to reach the finals. Still, they would have to beat either Robertson — a team Portales edged 57-54 on Dec. 12 — or Lordsburg, a strong Class 2A team, in the semifinals.

“We’ve got a pretty big task,” Gallegos said of tonight’s matchup with the Class 4A Jaguars. “We’ll try to play good, solid man defense.”

This is the eighth year the Rams have played in this tournament. They’ve never won it, although they did reach the finals in 1999 and 2000.