By Eric Butler: PNT Correspondent
RIO RANCHO — Portales girls basketball coach Brenda Gomez was concerned after falling behind by double digits against a Los Lunas team that had demonstrated admirable offense patience in the first two rounds of the Mel Otero Invitational.
But Los Lunas (4-4) was unable to hold on to an 11-point lead as Portales (4-3) rallied for a 43-40 victory Saturday in the fifth-place game of the Mel Otero tournament.
“I thought we were going to have to get in a half-court trap and trap all the time, because they were going to pull the ball out,” said Gomez, realizing that the Tigers were likely to be extremely selective on offense after gaining 26-15 advantaged at halftime.
But Morgan Hill scored a bucket right out of intermission, which was followed by a 3-pointer by Megan Kabrick, and the Rams shaved five points off the deficit within the first two minutes of the third quarter.
The deficit was reduced almost entirely when Portales’ Briana Hernandez sunk a baseline trey and Hill hit a pair of free throws to make the score 26-25 in favor of Los Lunas.
Kabrick, who had 15 points to lead the Rams, came to the top of the key to hit another 3-pointer before the quarter was over.
“She was posting up a lot and doing a good job there, but when they double-teamed that she popped out,” Gomez said. “Whenever you can pull them out, that can open up the middle.”
Portales regained the lead when freshman Tara Johnson hit a pair of free throws with 4:41 left in the game to put the Rams up 37-36. Johnson had 11 points while Hill added 10 for Portales.
“I was worried (about the early deficit), because they were good,” Johnson said. “But I knew we could come back.”
The biggest play of the game came during an encounter between a pair of one-time AAU club teammates.
With eight seconds remaining, Los Lunas’ Clarissa Krum — the game’s leading scorer with 19 — drove into the lane with the Tigers’ down 41-40.
A foul was called on Hill, once a teammate of Krum on a Clovis-based AAU squad two years ago, and the Portales senior center fouled out as a result.
“I didn’t really think it was a foul, but I didn’t think a lot of them were fouls,” said Hill, who also fouled out in Portales’ opening-round loss against Highland. “I get called for more fouls here (at Mel Otero), it seems like, than I do the rest of the season.”
Krum, who had not missed any of her five previous free throw attempts, however, missed both shots and Kabrick sealed the Portales win by grabbing a rebound and, after being fouled, making a pair of free throws herself.
“We were saying that when we get it from out-of-bounds, you need to make sure you can call a timeout if you have to and, when we get down the floor, we had a play set up. I was surprised, real surprised,” said Gomez of Krum’s missed shots.
Portales was playing in the Mel Otero Invitational for the sixth straight year.
Kabrick was selected to the all-tourney team for the Rams.
Bernalillo 62, Portales 53
BERNALILLO — Pedro Vaquera scored 23 points and the host Spartans rebounded from a 14-9 first quarter deficit to claim a win in a rematch of last year’s Class 3A state title game, also won by Bernalillo.
The loss dropped Portales to 2-4 on the season.
Portales coach Mark Gallegos said a lack of defense was the biggest reason for the defeat.
“It was more of what we did (that what Bernalillo did),” Gallegos said. “We don’t have a defensive identity.
“The guys on this team are still young. They’re not buying into the fact that we play defense. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Daniel Aranda scored 19 to lead Portales, while Chris Adkins added 13.