By Rick White
Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a series of 2003’s Top 10 News-Tribune sports stories.
ALBUQUERQUE — The more Kassandra Richards shot the ball, the better her injured finger felt.
By the end of the game, the Portales High junior was all smiles and dreaded rival Lovington was the one feeling the pain.
Richards poured a game-high 22 points, including consecutive 3-pointers during a pivotal first-half run, and added eight rebounds as Portales won its second Class 3A girls state basketball title in three years with a convincing 59-51 win over Lovington at The Pit.
The Lady Rams return to the top was the Portales News-Tribune’s top sports story in 2003.
“I jammed my finger really bad in practice (Thursday),” Richards said of a damaged digit on her shooting hand. “I was kind of nervous.”
“But I came out with confidence and every shot I shot, my confidence grew. I think the difference was I wanted it (championship trophy) so bad.”
Richards, who connected on 5-of-6 3-point attempts, was the primary beneficiary of the Portales offense built on making the extra pass.
“She’s a great shooter,” Lovington coach Pilar Carrasco said of Richards. “She and Erika Cook, every time we made a run, they’d hit a big shot. That’s what great players do.”
It was the fifth time the District 4-3A rivals met, with Portales (19-6) taking the game that counted the most.
Cook, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, said the Lady Rams were on a mission after losing to Lovington in the district tournament finals — at home.
“We’ve been playing the same girls since the eighth grade,” she said. “The rivalry just keeps building.
“This is a lot sweeter than the district championship. I’d rather have this any day.”
The Lady Rams, who return five of their top six players, were much more than Richards and Cook.
They were freshmen Morgan Hill and Megan Kabrick playing like savvy veterans.
Hill was a mountain in the middle, finishing with seven points and six rebounds off the bench. Even more important, the still-growing 6-footer provided a defensive presence in the paint early as Lady Rams held Lovington (18-10) to eight points through the game’s first 10-plus minutes of the game.
Kabrick, a 5-10 post with a sweet shooting stroke, chipped in eight points and seven rebounds while giving Portales a third scoring option behind Richards and Cook.
They were Roni Gomez, daughter of the coach, handling Lovington’s array of pressure defenses and running the offense.
They were seniors Jojo Miller and Tori Carter and junior Felicity Pena contributing key minutes off the bench, especially in the first half when the Lady Rams were on the brink of foul trouble.
Pena hit a big 3-pointer early in the third quarter after Lovington crawled within 26-21.
“Blue trophies aren’t given away, they’re earned, and Portales went out there and earned it tonight,” Carrasco said.
Lovington, playing in its first state championship game, never led and struggled most of the game to find its offensive rhythm.
“They missed some shots they normally don’t miss,” said Portales coach Brenda Gomez, who has led Portales to three state titles and 16-straight state tournament appearances. “Being in the championship game for the first time probably was a little different from what they’re used to.”
The conclusion to this story is a work in progress. The Lady Rams are 9-3 to start a season that most predict to be a state title season. However, the impact of Kabrick’s ACL injury has yet to be fully seen.