The road to Albuquerque is paved with victories and defeats for the Portales girls.
The Portales Lady Rams (17-10) haven’t missed the tournament in more than two decades, and are going into this year’s tournament as the No. 2 seed after a hard-fought win over Lovington in the District 4-3A tournament title game.
The Lady Rams count on a schedule full of Class 4A and Class 5A teams to better themselves for this time of the year.
It’s working, as Portales is on a six-game streak and is seeded only behind 27-0 Pojoaque.
“We play bigger schools and good teams so we can concentrate on specific areas, both defensively and offensively,” Portales coach Clay Stout said. “If we don’t learn from our weaknesses, then we have a tendency to overlook those weaknesses. We play good teams who will expose our weaknesses in those areas so we can concentrate on improving.”
An overtime loss to Hobbs and a blowout loss to Roswell helped Stout to see the areas the team needed to focus on.
“I think in the overtime game against Hobbs, we were on the line to win it and didn’t make our free throws,” Stout said.” I don’t know, it is hard to say. I remember a couple of games we just played horrible.”
An average Portales game features 30 to 40 points allowed, and just enough offense.
Portales has scored 50-plus four times, but it wasn’t for a need of offense — the average margin of victory in those games was 35 points.
“Our defense has been playing really well,” Stout said. “The teams we are playing are not easy to defend and I think the girls have worked hard on their defense and we’ve gotten better all year long.”
The Lady Rams returned six players from last year’s team that was upset in the state quarterfinals after seven straight trips to the finals — they won four.
Portales went 5-1 in District 4-3A play this season with its only loss at Lovington.
Portales senior guard Tara Johnson said the team’s toughest loss was to Lovington, and it provided motivation to work on those small things that could be the difference between wins and losses.
“We’re working on everything we usually do for every opponent,” Johnson said. “I’ve been working my shots and my free throws all season.”
Portales and Lovington tied for the district lead and had a one-game playoff, which the Lady Rams won 37-24. The win gave Portales the district tournament’s top seed and homecourt for the eventual rematch — a 36-30 win Friday.
“Our biggest game was the playoff game with Lovington,” Stout said. “We beat them by 13 points ... I feel like it gave us momentum going into the playoffs.”
Stout is in his second season since taking over for Brenda Gomez, who never missed the playoffs in her 20 seasons and won five state championships. Stout and Gomez shared the opinion that a tough schedule early pays off late.
“I’ve always played a very tough schedule,” Stout said. “We don’t get better unless we play good teams. When we went to Roswell, we lost, but I thought that was one of our better games.
“It wasn’t the end of the world that Roswell beat us. I look at every game as a stepping stone. We work to improve from there or we don’t,” Stout said.