Rams struggle to beat NMMI, then get help for district title

By Dave Wagner

It wasn’t a very satisfying win, but it more than got the job done.
Struggling for the second time this season against New Mexico Military, the Portales High boys led wire-to-wire but didn’t nail down the game until the closing moments in beating the undermanned Colts 46-37 on Friday at the PHS gym.
Still, combined with Lovington’s 63-59 loss at Ruidoso, it was enough to give PHS the outright District 4-3A regular-season title and assure the Rams their first trip to the Class 3A state tournament since they won it in 2001.
Portales (16-8, 5-1 district) earned a bye to next week’s 4-3A tournament championship game, which it will host at 7 p.m. on Saturday. NMMI (2-17, 0-6) travels to Ruidoso in a first-round game on Tuesday, with that winner playing at Lovington (14-10, 4-2) in a semifinal game on Thursday.
Veteran Rams coach Mark Gallegos almost sounded as if his team had been on the losing end.
“I told the kids I didn’t have them prepared to play,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
NMMI scared the dickens out of Portales earlier in Roswell, losing 40-39 when it missed a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity with less than a second left.
This time the Rams opened a 7-0 margin in the first 3 1/2 minutes, and led 16-6 early in the second quarter. But the Colts closed ground the rest of the half and got within two points late in the third period.
“We were in the game — that’s not bad for playing (basically) six kids,” said NMMI coach Kevin Jones, whose numbers have been affected by an off-field incident at the end of the football season that involved several Colts basketball players.
“We try to go out and do our best with what we’ve got. I love these kids to death; they play so hard and have a lot of pride.”
Junior guard Daniel Aranda scored 13 points for PHS while senior post Jack Hale had 12 points and a team-leading seven rebounds, including a spectacular one-handed tip-in with 3:40 left that extended the Rams’ lead to six points.
“Those two kids played pretty well,” Gallegos said. “Jack had a pretty good game tonight; he was pretty consistent. But we made so many fundamental mistakes.”
Two NMMI turnovers in the final 1:10, followed by two free throws each from Hale and junior guard Chris Adkins, finally put the game away.
Sophomore Connor Williamson scored a game-high 17 points and senior Kelby Mann added 10 for NMMI, which has two players who play in home games but are not allowed to travel with the team.
“I feel bad that these kids have to travel shorthanded,” Jones said. “You can’t tell by this team that they’ve only won a couple of games.”
Portales controlled the boards 30-23 and forced 23 NMMI turnovers, but the Rams had a tough night shooting — 17-for-49 from the field, including just 2-of-12 from 3-point range.
“We’re not the type of team that has a player who’s always going to get you 20 or 30 points,” Gallegos said. “You’ve got to make the most of the opportunities you get.
“I told coach Jones his kids ought to be proud of their effort. His kids obviously love the game, and they outplayed us tonight.”

District 4-3A
Portales 46, NMMI 37
New Mexico Military (2-17, 0-6) —
Andrew Cowan 2 0-0 4, Carlos Padres 1 0-0 2, Connor Williamson 4 7-7 17, Lawrence Johnson 0 0-0 0, Daniel Romero 0 0-0 0, Kelby Mann 5 0-2 10, Taylor Marley 2 0-1 4, Greg Hinojos 0 0-0 0. Totals 14-36 7-10 37.
Portales (16-8, 5-1) — Cruz Ontiveros 1-2 0-0 2, Daniel Boan 0-1 0-0 0, Daniel Aranda 5-13 2-4 13, Jonathan Garcia 0-0 0-0 0, Chris Kirchner 1-3 1-1 3, Bo Gabriel 1-4 1-2 3, Trevor Ferguson 1-3 0-0 2, Chris Adkins 1-6 2-2 4, Chris Carter 1-8 0-0 3, Tyler Johnson 2-2 0-0 4, Jack Hale 4-7 4-4 12, Chris Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-49 10-13 46.
NMMI 4 15 12 6 — 37
Portales 13 11 11 11 — 46
3-pointers —
New Mexico Military 2-8 (Williamson 2), Portales 2-12 (Aranda 1-3, Carter 1-5, Ferguson 0-1, Gabriel 0-1, Adkins 0-2). Rebounds — New Mexico Military 23, Portales 30 (Hale 7). Assists — New Mexico Military 7, Portales 9 (Gabriel 3). Total fouls — New Mexico Military 14, Portales 14. Fouled out — none. JV score — Portales 54, New Mexico Military 19.