By Mike Linn
The Portales Rams’ inability to convert had plagued them all season.
In the final eight minutes of the district 4-3A tournament — the final stanza of the year — the plague reached its climax.
The Rams entered the fourth quarter with a three-point lead and broke down both defensively and at the free-throw line against a scrappy, high-octane Ruidoso team in a 57-47 season-ending loss Monday night at home — giving the Rams (8-16) a 1-15 record when allowing 50 points or more.
“Tonight’s game was our season in a nutshell,” Portales coach Portales coach Mark Gallegos said. “The biggest disappointment is defensively we just never (came through) … when they got the lead and we have to play man (on man) — we just, we just can’t.”
The Warriors outscored the Rams 22-9 in the fourth quarter, breaking down the Rams’ defense and finding easy buckets in the paint and on fast breaks. The Rams didn’t help themselves in the fourth after making just four of 10 free throws.
The Warriors used a fast-paced style and aggressive full- and half-court traps to pester Portales guards throughout the game. The Warriors’ biggest assets, however, may have been forwards Chance Hooper, Patrick Valliant and Auston Beier, a trio that used height to outrebound a smaller Rams front.
“Our height made a big difference,” Ruidoso coach Billy Page said. “I really think height was a disadvantage for Portales, as we were able to board a little bit better than we did the last two times.”
Added Gallegos: “They can make a living inside. They’re big but they’re also athletic.”
Portales beat Ruidoso twice in the regular season by 2- and 20-point margins, and had ended the Warriors’ season for three years in a row before Monday night.
In a seesaw game that saw several runs and lead changes by both teams, the Rams tried to slow down the fast pace of the Warriors.
It worked early in the second quarter when the Rams went on a 13 – 4 run. Down 18-13 after the first quarter, the Rams cut the lead to 1 at halftime thanks to 11 first-half points by junior guard Chris Kirchner.
Kirchner finished with 13; Seth Clabaugh and Chris Carter added 10. Beier led the Warriors with 15 and Valliant and Hooper added 11 each. Hooper and Valliant were suspended for incidents related to hazing during the first two games, both Portales wins.
The Warriors move to 12-11 with the win.
After their last game in a Rams uniform, seniors Clabaugh and Russell Knudson said they only regretted not bringing their team further.
“I’m honored to play for Portales,” Knudson said. “It’s such a disciplined program. Not anybody can do it. It takes a bunch of really good guys and that’s what I had this year.”
Added Clabaugh, who played his freshman year, but not his junior and sophomore years, “It takes a different breed of person. They run a disciplined program, and if you don’t like discipline then you can probably leave.”