By Dave Wagner
CNJ SPORTS WRITER
TEXICO — Fort Sumner and Melrose traded the lead for a few minutes at the start before it turned into a game of runs.
Fort Sumner’s runs were much longer than Melrose’s, and were more than enough to carry the Vixens into the girls semifinals of the 47th annual EPAC Tournament at Greyhound Arena.
The Vixens erased a 7-6 deficit with a 17-0 run, and added spurts of 10-0 and 14-2 to beat the Lady Buffaloes 66-32 Wednesday at Texico Sports Arena.
Melrose answered with a pair of 6-0 runs of its own, but, in short, Fort Sumner’s speed was too much for the Lady Buffs’ size.
“We’re starting to pick it up,” said junior Sandy Fortner, who scored 10 of her game-high 25 points in Fort Sumner’s initial blitz. “A lot of girls were afraid to shoot (in the past), but they see the opportunity now and they’re not afraid to shoot it.”
Kelly Fortner, Sandy’s twin sister, added 12 points for the Vixens while freshman Laurel Herrera came off the bench for three 3-pointers and 10 points, including a rare four-point play.
Sandy’s father, Vixens coach Brian Fortner, noted that seven players contributed to the point total.
“It was nice we had the other people scoring,” he said. “We haven’t had that very often this year.”
Fort Sumner (8-3) advances to a 2:30 p.m. matchup on Friday against Elida (7-5) at Greyhound Arena in Portales. The other semifinal pits Texico (9-1) against Grady (9-3) at 4:15 p.m.
The Fortners came to Fort Sumner from Tucumcari this year when Brian was hired as girls head coach. Sandy said the transition has been an easy one.
“All the girls are really nice,” she said. “By the second day, we were spending time at other girls’ houses.”
The Vixens are playing without junior point guard Leslie Wood, who has torn cartilage in her right knee. The problem originated during the volleyball season, Brian Fortner said, but he added that if all goes well Wood could return in another couple of weeks.
“Our speed made a big difference,” he said. “We missed some easy shots early, but our press looked good today. We’re starting to get into midseason form.”
Junior post Audrey Hemminger had a strong game around the basket and led Melrose (3-9) with 18 points, while senior post Allison Cochran added 10.
Melrose coach Sheila Roberts would like to see her team get the ball to its two 6-footers even more, but said it wasn’t all bad for the Lady Buffs.
“I saw a lot of good things out of our girls,” Roberts said. “Fort Sumner is just a good team. They execute well and get up and down the floor well.”