By Dave Wagner
Maybe the Portales High Lady Rams are simply starting a late-season surge.
PHS, which has won three of the last four Class 3A state volleyball championships but has been mired well below .500 all season, clinched a trip to this year’s state tournament Tuesday night with a 14-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-20 win over Lovington in the District 4-3A tournament semifinal match at the PHS gym.
The Lady Rams (6-14), who beat Lovington twice in five games during district play, recovered from a slow start in which the Lady Wildcats (11-8) closed out Game 1 on a 13-1 run.
“We had butterflies and some jitters,” said senior Morgan Hill, who posted a match-high 16 kills and also contributed a couple of blocks. “It was the first big (match) a lot of these girls (Lady Rams) have ever played.”
By winning, Portales qualified for the 3A state tournament in Albuquerque next week, and will play at regular-season 4-3A champion Ruidoso at 7 p.m., Saturday for the tourney championship.
With junior Megan Kabrick on the service line, Portales erased a 9-3 deficit to gain the lead in the first game before Lovington stormed back to close it out. But the success was shortlived for the Lady Wildcats.
“We came out really strong, but Portales made some adjustments,” Lovington coach Gina Lajeana said. “I thought both teams played well.
“I would like to have won tonight, but it’s just one of those things.”
Portales led virtually all of the way in the second game, closing it out on consecutive service aces by sophomore Amanda Terry.
“I thought Amanda Terry played well,” PHS coach Ruth Chavez said. “She had an excellent defensive game tonight.”
Lovington scored the first three points of the third game, but Portales took the lead for good at 12-8 with five consecutive points — four Lady Wildcats errors and a kill by Hill. The Lady Rams led virtually all the way in the final game, ending it on a kill by junior Briana Hernandez.
Kabrick, like Hill a key player in last year’s state title run, contributed eight kills, four blocks and a match-high eight service aces.
“We just got out here tonight and played like we knew we could,” Hill said. “We’ve been in this situation before, and we knew how big of a game it was. We (she and Kabrick) knew we had to be leaders out there.”
Senior Andrea Jarnigan had 11 kills for Lovington, while junior Jenna Domzalski added 10 kills, four blocks and three aces.
Portales 3, Lovington 1
Lovington 25 18 21 20
Portales 14 25 25 25
Kills — Lovington, Andrea Jarnigan 11, Jenna Domzalski 10, Crystal Marquez 5, Monique Perez 5. Portales, Morgan Hill 16, Megan Kabrick 8, Briana Hernandez 4, Bethany Self 4. Blocks — Lovington, Domzalski 4. Portales, Kabrick 4, Hill 2. Aces — Lovington, Perez 4, Domzalski 3, Whitney Choate 2, Victoria Balderama 1. Portales, Kabrick 8, Amanda Terry 2, three tied with 1. Records — Lovington 11-8, Portales 6-14.