The Portales Rams punched their ticket for Albuquerque Saturday night at the Ram Athletic Center as they jumped on the Silver High School Colts (15-14) early and rode to a 59-41 win in the first round of the state basketball playoffs.
The win pits the Rams (18-9) against No. 3 Sandia Prep at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday at Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. Sandia Prep advanced to the quarterfinal with a 65-51 win over Ruidoso Saturday.
“I was real pleased with the way we started,” Portales coach Mark Gallegos said. “When you jump on a team like that after they’ve just gotten off a long bus ride it takes them awhile to get focused and by then their legs are tired.”
To say the Rams got a fast start might be an understatement. Portales led 13-0 before Silver finally got on the board with a three-point play from Jacob Marquez with 3:08 left in the first period.
With full court pressure on the Colts at the start, Portales cruised to a 17-3 lead after one quarter and a 32-10 advantage at the half. What few shots Silver got were hurried or under pressure and mostly fell cold.
Silver managed to regroup after the half, though. Senior Ryan Gonzales dropped in three straight baskets inside the paint and junior Alex Lopez added a three-shot foul before Portales could respond.
Rams senior Miguel Vasquez finally broke the ice with 4:57 left in the third period, but Portales was struggling to get back inside where they had done the most damage in the first half.
“We set a goal holding them under 40 points and we held them to 41,” Gallegos said. “I knew, and I told the team, we had a chance to win if we did that. Even with that lapse in the third quarter we came through pretty good.
Gallegos said he helped his team break that slump by telling them they had to take the ball inside after Silver switched defenses.
Senior Jesse Blue led the Rams in scoring with 14 points while junior Johnson added 10.
“We were confident, really confident,” Johnson said. “We have a bunch of seniors on our team and we didn’t want to end our season. We really wanted to go on to Albuquerque. I love that we ended our season at home on a great note.”
One of those seniors, Stephen Shields, expressed some regrets on his time playing at the RAC being over so fast, but he was clearly excited about the pending road trip to the state tournament.
“At the beginning I was sad but I was ready to get on with our season,” Shields said. “All the sweat that’s dripped on this court will never be again (here). We’re just going to take it one game at a time, work hard and see what happens (at the tournament).”
Gallegos says his team is ready for Albuquerque and won’t listen to any doubters.
“When you go to Albuquerque anything can happen,” he said. “That’s why we keep that state championship banner from 2002 in there to remind the players. Nobody thought we could win that year.
“Seeds don’t matter now you’ve just got to go play.”