By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
ALBUQUERQUE — The Portales Lady Rams knew they could beat District 4-3A rival Ruidoso — heck, they’d already done it three times this season by double-figure margins.
The fourth one, in a Class 3A state quarterfinal game on Tuesday at The Pit, came a little harder before the defending champions nailed down a 41-34 victory and moved within a game of reaching their seventh consecutive berth in the state finals.
Junior forward Bethany Self scored 14 points while senior guard Briana Hernandez added 13 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Portales (19-8) faces 12th-seeded St. Michael’s, a 39-36 upset winner over city rival Santa Fe Indian School, in an 11:30 a.m. semifinal on Thursday.
Portales scored five points after the Lady Warriors (17-12) tallied the game’s first basket and never relinquished the lead. But the Lady Rams had a tough time putting the game away.
“They did a great job of staying in the game, and we let them stay in it,” PHS coach Brenda Gomez said. “Toward the end, I thought we were playing more not to lose.”
Portales had an 11-point lead at one point in the second quarter, but had to survive a nine-minute stretch without a field goal.
Ruidoso simply couldn’t take advantage.
“We have a lot of young girls on the team,” Ruidoso coach Julie Montoya said. “We were right there today; we just didn’t knock down the little shots.
“They do a good job of stopping our transition game.”
Both teams struggled from the floor — each shooting under 30 percent — and from the line. Ruidoso’s lone double-figure scorer was senior post Hailee Bob with 11 points.
Self, who went 6-for-11 from the field, got the Lady Rams off to a decent start with three first-quarter field goals. Hernandez added a pair of 3-pointers as Portales opened a 23-17 halftime lead.
Hernandez said it was tough to get up for such a familiar foe.
“I think there was pressure on us,” she said. “It’s just real hard playing (the same team) four times.
“They came out like they had nothing to lose. Today, we had to play twice as hard to beat them.”
Neither team scored a field goal in the third quarter until Portales’ Kaycee Quick dropped one in from the lane with 2:21 left in the period. The teams battled to a 7-7 draw in the period, and the Lady Rams kept their six-point lead.
Portales managed only 7-of-14 from the free throw line in the final quarter and still had just a four-point lead before converting 3-of-4 from the line in the final minute.
Self said she doesn’t recall facing St. Michael’s in her three years at PHS, and is looking forward to seeing a new opponent.
“It’s hard when (a team knows) every move you’re going to make,” Self said. “We’ve just got to stay positive. We can’t be scared of anything.”