ALBUQUERQUE — Three-pointers from Portales’ Briana Hernandez may have kept a large Thoreau cheering section quiet at the start. But, after awhile, silence turned into a murmur. That changed into a swell, which finally culminated in a roar as Thoreau chipped away at the Rams’ lead.
Just as well, said the Portales players, who survived to take a 50-48 Class 3A quarterfinal. The Rams knew that, even after the quarterfinal win at The Pit, they would have to face another similar challenge in the semifinals.
It was the first time Portales (22-6) had played in The Pit since losing to Santa Fe Indian School last year’s state championship.
“Today was a flashback (to the 2005 finale), but not as bad,” said Portales senior Megan Kabrick, who scored 10 points in the win.
“I think it will (help), because it got us knowing that we need to pull together and play hard all the time,” said Rams’ senior Morgan Hill, who tallied 13 points and 11 rebounds while her future college coach, Navy’s Tom Marryott, was in the stands watching.
Thoreau (21-8) fell behind by 16 points in the second quarter and still trailed by 15 in the early part of the third period. While the Hawks faithful reveled in the comeback that then ensued, the Portales rooters became fretful.
When Thoreau’s LaShonda Jones stole a Rams’ pass, was fouled and hit two free throws, the Hawks were down 40-38 with 4:15 left to play.
Ashleah Richards hit the first of two free throws. Hill rebounded the second attempt and scored to put Portales up by five points. Down the stretch, 50 percent marksmanship on the line was the norm for Portales as Thoreau made one last-ditch comeback.
KiAllen Gibson and Cherlynn Martinez each hit 3-pointers in the last minute, the latter one on a long bomb at the buzzer.
“We’d get up and then we’d just kind of chill,” Hill said. “We were playing the same, but not as intense. We know we need to step it up a notch.”
Hernandez’ long-distance shooting early placed the seventh-seeded Hawks in the position of playing from behind. With 1:25 left in the opening period, Hernandez canned her third trey as Portales went ahead 17-5. Hernandez led Portales with 19 points.
“It’s an element we’ve been missing for, what, a month?” said Portales coach Brenda Gomez, turning to Hernandez in a post-game press conference. “If she missed her first one, she’d quit (shooting). But she made her first one today and then she felt confident. She gets hot and she can definitely connect.”
Thoreau coach Terrance Butler said the quick start was too much for his team to overcome.
“I felt all along that this team (Portales) should have been the number one seed,” Butler said. “The top of the (3A girls) bracket is not near as tough. It would have been interesting to see a little more balance.”
The other half of the draw will mean a semifinal game for Portales with either Shiprock or Santa Fe Indian. In either case, a large crowd is expected to be galvanized against the Rams — who had only a small amount of supporters in the quarterfinals.
“I feel sorry for the kids, because it’s not a given thing (going to finals),” Gomez said about the Portales contingent in The Pit stands. “The community is, like, ‘We’ll see you on Friday.’”