By Jesse Wolfersberger
Heading into the final week of the regular season, three out of the four boys teams in District 4-3A are still alive for the top seed in the district tournament and the automatic state playoff berth that comes with it.
Lovington (17-9, 3-1 in district), Ruidoso (16-9, 3-1), and Portales (11-11, 2-2) will be fighting to host the district tournament finals, only winless New Mexico Military Institute (0-17, 0-3) is out of the running.
The Rams host the Lovington Wildcats today at 8 p.m. at Portales High School in the second half of a prep hoops doubleheader. In the first game, the Lady Rams take on Ruidoso at 6 p.m.
The Rams are a game behind Lovington and Ruidoso in the standings, but they play both teams this week. If they win both games, the worst-case scenario would be a three-way tie atop the standings. If the Wildcats or Warriors stumble against NMMI, who also plays both teams this week, Portales could find itself in a two-way tie or even in sole possession of first place.
Lovington edged the Rams 49-48 in their first meeting on Jan. 31 in Lovington.
Portales coach Mark Gallegos said stopping Wildcat senior center Truman Payne is his team’s biggest concern.
“We’re working on giving them a different look in the zone to take away their big gun inside,” Gallegos said. “We’re going to work to make sure that he doesn’t catch the ball inside.”
Gallegos said having the game at home will be a big advantage for his team.
“It’s a huge difference,” he said. “We’re happy to be playing at home. The girls are playing before us, so there should be a big crowd.”
The Ram coach said his team needs to focus on defense if they want to win two games this week and have a chance to host the district tournament finals.
“The big thing defensively is not making mistakes and not giving them extra shots,” Gallegos said. “(Offensively) We’ve got to execute against the 2-3 zone. Last time they did a good job slowing us down with the 2-3, so this time we’re going to do some different things to try and attack it.”
For the Lady Rams, tonight’s game against Ruidoso could have been an effortless formality, having locked up the top seed in the district. However, losing at Roswell Goddard 45-37 last week changed the way Portales will approach the game.
“We learned that we haven’t perfected the game of basketball,” Portales coach Brenda Gomez said. “You can talk about it all you want to, but you have to go out there and prove it.”
Until the loss at Goddard, the Lady Rams were 18-5, the losses coming against Highlands, Hobbs, and thrice against Clovis. Those three teams are all in Class 5A and two, Hobbs and Clovis, have more than 20 wins.
Now, the Lady Rams are not content to just cruise into the district tournament, instead they will try to play with playoff-like intensity in what is a meaningless game in the standings.
“That definitely changed our mindset,” Gomez said.