By Dave Wagner
Mark Gallegos would like to have known before Thursday night just who his Portales High boys basketball team would face in Saturday’s 7 p.m. District 4-3A tournament championship game at the PHS gym.
“Until you see who you’re going to play, it makes it a little hard (to prepare),” said Gallegos, who now knows his team will play Lovington after the Wildcats dispatched Ruidoso 73-53 Thursday night at home.
One thing the Rams don’t have to worry about — they’re going to next week’s Class 3A state tournament no matter Saturday’s outcome.
Ditto for the PHS girls, who host Ruidoso in the 4-3A tournament finale at 7 p.m. today.
Gallegos said the Rams (16-8) spent their time this week trying to iron out some kinks. He said they haven’t played well in their past two games — a 14-point loss at Lovington and a nine-point home win over 2-18 New Mexico Military Institute.
“I don’t know if it matters who we play,” Gallegos said before Thursday’s game. “I’m just more concerned with us playing better than we have the last two games.
“I really think we’ll come out ready Saturday night. This is what we’ve played for all year.”
Portales and Lovington (15-10) split their two regular-season meetings and were headed for a playoff for the top seed before the Wildcats lost at Ruidoso 63-59 last Friday, dropping them a game behind the Rams.
The Rams held Lovington senior guard Ryan Hargrove to five points through three quarters in winning 62-50 at home, but saw him go off for seven 3-pointers and 23 points as the Wildcats stormed to a 61-47 victory in the return match.
With the New Mexico Activities Association seeding this year’s 3A, 4A and 5A tournaments after this weekend’s games, Gallegos said a win could put the Rams in as one of the top two seeds next week.
He said he’s not sure how much a loss will affect their position, although it will certainly hurt.
“We just haven’t played very well our last two games,” he said. “We need to win for the seed, and for our confidence.”
The PHS girls (13-11) locked up the regular-season district title with a 60-34 trouncing of Ruidoso on the road on Feb. 22, then knocked off Class 4A power Roswell High 59-49 last Saturday. So it figures they’re heading into tonight’s game with a little momentum.
“I just think we’re playing better now (than earlier),” Lady Rams coach Brenda Gomez said. “Even though some of our kids didn’t play to their potential (against Roswell), some others did. (Winning has to) make everyone more comfortable.
“I credit the kids a lot because they did focus. I think they took it as a personal challenge to beat Roswell.”
Ruidoso (15-12) advanced to the finals with a 49-39 win at Lovington on Tuesday, four nights after losing at Lovington 49-46 and thus dropping to the third seed.
No one has won at home yet in the PHS-Ruidoso series. Gomez said the Lady Rams stepped up their defensive effort in last week’s meeting, and didn’t allow the Lady Warriors to get many good looks.
Gomez said a win tonight could give her team a top seed at state.
District 4-3A tournament
All games 7 p.m.
Ruidoso (3) 57, NMMI (4) 46
Lovington (2) 73, Ruidoso 53
Lovington at Portales (1)
Ruidoso (3) 49, Lovington (2) 39
Ruidoso at Portales (1)
Note: Tickets for all tournament games are $5. No passes will be honored.