By Mickey Winfield: PNT Staff Writer
With four of the last six state titles, the Portales Lady Rams have cast a large shadow over New Mexico girls Class 3A basketball over the last decade.
The Portales girls have a chance to continue their domination at 8 p.m. today when the top-seeded Lady Rams play second-seeded Hope Christian in the 3A state championship game at The Pit.
“Our biggest advantage is that we’ve been there,” Portales head coach Brenda Gomez said.
In Thursday’s semifinals, Portales defeated 12th-seeded St. Michael’s 32-31 while Hope Christian topped sixth-seeded Pojoaque 52-40 Thursday morning.
“Right now, I think it’s a big positive for us (that we’ve played close games,” Gomez said. “We’ve handled the pressure. We’ve been up and taken care of the lead, and then at the end of this last one, we had to put the ball in the hole to finish ahead and I think that’s a big plus because we’re more confident now.”
Gomez said Hope Christian plays an effective outside game, but they haven’t really been tested at the state tournament.
“We just have to keep track of where their 3-point shooters are and keep them off the boards,” Gomez said. “I’ve watched every game they’ve played here at the state tournament and there’s been quite a few teams that didn’t get after them. They’re not coming off picks, they shot those 3s from wide open areas, and you just can’t leave them open like that.”
Portales sophomore guard Tara Johnson believes the program’s recent success creates pressure and expectations for the Lady Rams to win, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There’s a lot of pressure because we’re the number one seed and we’re supposed to show everyone that we can win,” said Johnson, who made the game-winning free throws with 15.9 seconds left against St. Michael’s. “It would be really good to win a state championship again, because we’re good and we know we can do it.”
Gomez also knows how important community involvement is with how well her girls play.
“They don’t just play for themselves, but they play to represent our community, and when they know that they are being supported by people back home, it just makes them play harder,” Gomez said. “If we just take care of business we’ll do well.”