By Kevin Wilson
CLOVIS — It wasn’t the ideal way for the Portales Lady Rams to start a tournament — 9 a.m. in a cold Rock Staubus Gymnasium, against a junior varsity team.
However, Portales had the type of finish they wanted, outscoring the host Lady Wildcats’ JV squad 46-17 over the final three quarters for a 62-36 win in Monday’s opener of the Plateau Classic in Clovis.
“The last three quarters were good,” Portales coach Brenda Gomez said after the game, by which time the gym’s heating system was operating. “The first quarter, we were still asleep. It was 9 a.m. and it was cold in here.”
“That’s about the only excuse I have right now.”
Erika Cook scored 13 to lead three in double figures for Portales (10-2), which will face Rio Rancho in a rematch of the Mel Otero Invitational finals. Rio Rancho defeated Amarillo Tascosa in a later game Monday.
Clovis (7-4) led throughout the first quarter and held a 19-16 advantage at the break, but Portales took control with a 17-0 run in the second and held the Lady Wildcats without a score for the first 7:37 of the period.
The teams combined to shoot 88 percent in the first quarter — Portales 7-of-7 and Clovis 8 of 10 — but the Lady Wildcats didn’t get the same open looks in the final three quarters and the Lady Rams played the passing lanes to force 19 turnovers.
“We’ve got a pretty good starting five,” Clovis coach Regina Downing said. “With the second unit, we fell off a bit. We weren’t executing, we weren’t penetrating.”
The game turned into a blowout midway through the second half. Portales put together a 16-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters, despite Gomez substituting players throughout.
One of the constants in the game was sophomore Morgan Hill, who scored a career-high 12 under the watch of the AAU team she played on over the summer. Clovis varsity members Aimee Hilburn, Brittany Blackmon and Tori Quintana watched the game from the bench and during one Hill free throw teased their summer teammate about how her shorts didn’t fit.
“I like seeing all my old teammates,” Hill said. “We’re still good friends. Everyone tells me I’ll stop liking them by the time I’m a senior, but I think we’ll be friends always.”
For the more immediate future, Hill has the unenviable task of filling in for fellow sophomore Megan Kabrick, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Gomez said that Hill needs to be a presence in the paint, and that the team needs to give touches to her and Ashleah Richards on every possible possession.
Downing, having coached Hill as part of the AAU squad, wasn’t surprised with her success on offense.
“She’s a good post player,” Downing said. “We got caught playing behind her and when you get caught behind her, you’re at her mercy. She had that turnaround jump shot go in all day.”
Kassandra Richards scored 10 for Portales, while Ashleah Richards and Roni Gomez added nine each. Brittny Johnson scored 12 points to lead Clovis, which will face Tascosa in a 2:45 p.m. game.
“I think Clovis has a good athletic group of kids,” Coach Gomez said. “They do things most JV’s just don’t do.”
Monday’s other games
• Unbeaten Rio Rancho dominated from the get-go and had no trouble with Amarillo Tascosa 63-25. Nicole Tatum scored 12 points and Brio Rode added 11, including three 3-pointers, for the Lady Rams (8-0).
• St. Michael’s blew a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but recovered to beat El Paso Riverside 62-57 in overtime. Shanae Roybal led four players in double figures for the Lady Horsemen (2-6) with 18 points.
• Junior Melissa Roberts hit five 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 19 points as Clovis blew out Dalhart, Texas, 74-25. Clovis led 44-10 at halftime as 11 Lady Wildcats scored.