By Eric Butler
CLOVIS — Although the Portales Sparks lost by nearly an identical score in a rematch with the Albuquerque Attack on Sunday, the AAU championship game for 12 & under girls didn’t feel nearly as close as the day before.
The Attack and Sparks both earned the right to go to the national tournament — by virtue of the amount of entries in their field. But it was the Attack, with a 40-29 win, who ended as the state champion after the game at Clovis High School.
On Saturday, the Attack also won the first contest — of this tourney, anyway — between the two teams by a 40-28 count.
“We’ve been off the whole tournament; our offensive game hasn’t been there — and that’s what hurt us,” said Sparks’ coach Glynna Martin. “We played well defensively, but we just weren’t on offensively.”
In both games, the Portales contingent was forced to play from behind. And the Sparks but a scare into the Albuquerque team by chopping the lead down to four points with six minutes left in the game.
But, in the championship contest, the Attack never let the Sparks get that close.
Every Sparks’ mini-momentum swing, indeed, seemed to be thwarted almost immediately afterwards by an Attack bucket.
The Sparks fell behind 19-4 at one point, and the Portales team had just scored its third basket of the half right before intermission. But Attack guard Megan Muniz then bombed in a long 3-point shot at the buzzer.
“That was an excellent way to end the half,” Attack coach Ruben Muniz said. “It kind of deflated them for us to get a shot like that.”
In the second half, a three-point play by Sparks’ center Olivia McNeill — who led her team with seven points — got her team back to within nine. That made the score 29-20 with 7:25 remaining in the game. Attack forward Melissa Sprinkle, though, answered with consecutive baskets to stymie that attempt.
One last chance, after a 7-1 Sparks run, remained for the Portales group. But, just after Kayla Breedlove’s score with 3:23 left cut the lead to 33-27, Muniz hit a shot and, fouled in the attempt, connected on a follow-up free throw for a 36-27 advantage with 2:52 to play.
“I thought we played pretty good. But, we beat the Attack all year, and we kind of choked it up at the end,” said the 13-year-old Breedlove, recalling two victories earlier this year over the Attack in Albuquerque. “Our defense wasn’t strong at the beginning.”
“We weren’t playing as a team; we were just trying to do it all ourselves,” added Sparks’ teammate Faith Martin.
The Sparks can now choose to compete in the national tournament in Louisiana in July or go to a BCI event in Sacramento — if enough funds can be raised for either possibility.
“We haven’t decided if we’re going to go on or if we’re going to take a break for the summer,” Glynna Martin said.
In the 11 & under and 13 & under divisions over the weekend, Portales Rams teams also were handed initial defeats on Friday by Albuquerque Attack squads before being eliminated on Saturday.