Lady Rams tackle new opponent

By Dave Wagner

Count Portales High girls coach Brenda Gomez as one who’s not thrilled with the new seeding format for state basketball tournaments.
The Lady Rams (14-11), who have been to four consecutive Class 3A state championship games and won three of them, received the No. 2 seed in the eight-team field on Sunday behind Grants (24-1). They meet Wingate (14-11) in a quarterfinal match set for 7 p.m. today at Albuquerque’s La Cueva High School.
Gomez thinks both Portales and Wingate may have been seeded a bit low, noting that the Lady Bears have beaten 3A state qualifiers Thoreau and Socorro — seeded fourth and fifth — and Class 4A qualifier Aztec. In addition, they lost in overtime to Grants, and by three points to third-seeded Las Vegas Robertson.
“I don’t know how they can justify Wingate being a seven (seed) when they’ve beaten some playoff teams,” Gomez said. “They’re just fundamentally sound. They’ve got two big post players, and a point guard that shoots well, runs the court well and sees the floor well.”
While Grants has a win over Class 4A qualifier Kirtland Central, a team which beat Portales soundly 63-45 at PHS in early January, Gomez said the Lady Pirates haven’t played as strong an overall schedule as her squad.
Portales has faced 14 games against Class 4A and 5A competition, winning eight of those contests.
Gomez also isn’t happy about the prospect of facing district rival Ruidoso in a semifinal round game on Thursday. The Lady Warriors (15-13), who’ve lost three of four to PHS this season, play third-seeded Robertson (23-4) in a 4 p.m. first-round game today at La Cueva.
“It comes down to just playing,” Gomez said. “If we play, we can beat any of these teams, anytime, anywhere.”
Junior post Morgan Hill is looking forward to the prospect of a PHS three-peat — the Lady Rams have won back-to-back titles since losing in the finals to Shiprock in 2002.
“We want to get it bad,” she said. “I don’t think that’s happened before in any sport at Portales.
“I think we’re ready. We just need to work hard and play together.”
This year’s tournament may have extra meaning for junior forward Megan Kabrick, who missed almost all of her sophomore campaign with a knee injury after helping PHS win the title as a freshman.
While she was elated for her teammates last season, she admitted that watching the tournament wasn’t the same as playing.
“It was awesome, watching the girls win and seeing all their smiles,” she said. “But at the same time, it was kind of sad.”
Hill said she’s looking forward to facing a team the Lady Rams haven’t played, at least in recent times.
“I kind of like it,” she said. “When you play teams over and over, they know everything about us and we know everything about them.”
As veterans of state tournament competition, Hill and Kabrick hope to be able to help the younger players settle down.
“We’ll be fine,” Kabrick said. “We hang out together a lot (away from the court). It feels like a big ol’ group of sisters, really.”

Class 3A girls
Tuesday’s quarterfinals
At Rio Rancho High School
Thoreau (18-10) vs. Socorro (19-9), 4 p.m.
Grants (24-1) vs. SFIS (19-7, 7 p.m.
At La Cueva High School
Robertson (23-4) vs. Ruidoso (15-13), 4 p.m.
Portales (14-11) vs. Wingate (14-11), 7 p.m.
Thursday’s semifinals
At Rio Rancho High School
Robertson-Ruidoso winner vs. Portales-Wingate winner, 4 p.m.
Grants-SFIS winner vs. Thoreau-Socorro winner, 7 p.m.
Friday’s finals
Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.