By Kevin Wilson
LOVINGTON — Erika Cook left the Lovington court Friday night with a smile and her hand in the air, holding up one finger.
The game that preceded the gesture, however, was anything but a first for Cook and the Portales Lady Rams.
Instead Cook, Roni Gomez and Kassandra Richards finished off a victory over Lovington, like they had so many times before. The three senior guards combined for 42 points in a 59-44 blowout at Wildcat Gym.
“It was very satisfying,” said Cook, one of three double-figure scorers on the night for Portales (14-3). “It’s what we’ve been waiting on all year, up to this point.
Gomez had a season-high 16, with Cook and Richards adding 13 each. Cook also had three of her five assists during a 10-0 third-quarter run that sealed Lovington’s fate in the District 4-3A opener for both teams.
“I felt like we played good,” Portales coach Brenda Gomez said. “We really played smart. We had to compensate for some foul trouble and I had two kids (Joni Brakebill and Amy Archibeque) step up and play really well.”
Portales only had one turnover during the third quarter, while Lovington (13-6) turned the ball over seven times on its first 10 possessions of the period. Of Portales’ 16 turnovers on the night, just four came in the second half (three in the final two minutes).
“We can handle pressure,” Coach Gomez said. “When those three — Kassandra, Roni and Erika — are stepping up and playing like that, there’s not a team in the state that can press us, and even Amy Archibeque stepped up and helped.”
The first half basically came down to two things — how Portales adjusted to foul trouble, and how Lovington adjusted to Portales’ zone defense. Portales dared Lovington to take 3-pointers, and the Lady Wildcats failed to capitalize.
“(Assistant coach) Greg (Poynor) was wanting them to prove they could make them from the outside,” Coach Gomez said of Portales’ zone. “I thought we got to the people that were open pretty quick.”
The strategy worked, as Lovington missed 12 of its first 16 shots.
“You’re either a hero or a chump in that situation,” Lovington coach Pilar Carrasco said of the outside shooting problems. “We got good looks, they didn’t go in.”
Carrasco thought his team got a lot of great opportunities by picking up quick fouls on Portales — Gomez, Cook and sophomore post Morgan Hill each had two fouls at the end of the first quarter — but never capitalized.
Hill was the only one to stay in foul trouble for the rest of the night, but still finished with seven points and got help off the bench from Brakebill.
“This game really indicates nothing,” Carrasco said. “It indicates they’ve got one win in district and they’re in the driver’s seat.
“They can come on our floor, they can beat us, they can whoop and holler in the locker room. That’s my job as a coach, and (my players’) jobs as athletes, (figuring out) what we do about it next time.”
There are at least two more “next times,” at Portales Feb. 3 and back at Lovington Feb. 13. The Lady Rams expect a challenge each time.
“We know we have to keep working hard,” Cook said. “We have to keep getting better because we know they’re going to be working hard.”
Each team will face Ruidoso first, however. The Lady Warriors come to Portales Tuesday, then host Lovington Friday.
Kimberly Choate led Lovington with 14 points, while Monique Perez added nine.
In the junior varsity game, Lovington defeated Portales 41-34.