RIO RANCHO — Portales was strong up the middle all night. And with a little shift, the Rams made sure St. Michael’s wasn’t.
Middle blocker Jenna Wagner had a match-high 18 kills, and Portales earned its way back to the Class 3A title game with a 25-22, 25-14, 20-25, 25-16 victory Friday night at the Santa Ana Star Center.
Second-seeded Portales moves on to a 4 p.m. Saturday championship game against Pojoaque (22-1), which rallied from a 23-17 deficit to secure a 25-16, 25-17, 26-24 win over Robertson in Friday’s other semifinal.
Coupled with a 25-16, 25-18, 25-14 win over District 4-3A rival Lovington in Friday’s quarterfinal, the Rams (16-7) have won 10 of their last 11.
But early on, it was St. Michael’s putting on the pressure, with middle hitter Alexa Chavez dominating the front line for the Lady Horsemen.
After Portales shifted its defense heavily toward the middle, however, the Rams stole a back-and-forth first game with a 6-2 run and raced out to a 21-10 lead in the second set.
“We just had to adjust against their middle,” Portales coach Ruth Chavez said. “Once we got it down, we shut them down and forced them outside. You can tell they’re not as comfortable on the outside because they had a lot of hitting errors.”
Longtime St. Michael’s coach Chela Butler said once Portales got the momentum in the first set, it always seemed like her squad was playing from behind.
“We did sideouts very well,” Butler said. “We just couldn’t score points when we had the ball. We weren’t holding our serve, and that makes playing very hard.”
Sophomore Macy Mitchell added 10 kills for Portales, but she said everything got easier once the defense adjusted. Chavez still managed 13 kills for the night.
“You could say we made the shift on them,” said the 6-foot middle blocker. “I thought we just shut them down.”
And once they did, they never let St. Michael’s back into it, save a 5-2 run in the third to hold off a Portales sweep.
“They’re a very good passing team,” Butler said, “and they were able to run their offense a lot better than we did.”
Now, Portales hopes for a repeat of that performance against the Elkettes, winners of 18 straight.
“They’re always good; it’s just a great program,” Chavez said of Pojoaque, which lost to Portales in a five-set affair for the 2005 title. “It’s going to be a battle.”