By Kevin Wilson
Portales believed coming into Friday’s Class 3A first-round game that visiting Santa Fe Indian School was a lot better than a No. 14 seed and a lot better than 10-18.
For the second half, it appeared the visiting Braves agreed, giving Portales all it could handle before the Lady Rams eked by with a 63-60 win Friday night at the Ram Athletic Center.
Kambrey Blakey and Sheraya Cox each scored 20 for Portales (22-5), which moves on to an 11:30 a.m. Tuesday quarterfinal at The Pit against Sandia Prep. The sixth-seeded Sundevils (19-9) beat Raton 60-55.
Portales, which survived a 37-34 squeaker last year over St. Michael’s that also came in the 3-14 matchup, led 15-4 five minutes into the game, but were nearly foiled by rough shooting patches and a 13-0 Braves run in the third quarter.
“We know an Indian school can get on a run,” a relieved Portales coach Wade Fraze said. “I know that sounds stereotypical, but we’ve seen it before. I remember when we were playing Thoreau (in 2006) when Brenda (Gomez) was here. We were up (15 in the second half) and we won (50-48); if we had another 20 seconds, we probably get beat in the semifinals.”
Another few seconds, and there might have been an overtime period on Friday. Paced by Kayla Joe’s 32 points on 8-of-10 shooting, the Braves (10-19) took their first lead when Allison Cavarillo hit a trey with 2:52 left in the third. It was the first of eight lead changes in the second half.
The final came when Cox hit a pair of free throws to make it 55-54 with 2:37 to go, then got a steal and hit another pair of FTs on the next Portales possession for some cushion.
“We needed to pick it up,” said Cox, who added seven rebounds and a game-high six assists for Portales. “When we get ahead, we sometimes let up.”
Portales led 62-58 with 23.1 seconds left after Savannah Vincent hit a pair of free throws. Joe scored on the next possession and missed the free throw — a rarity as she went 13-of-17 from the stripe — and Vincent pulled down the rebound with 3.3 left.
Vincent hit one of the two ensuing free throws — finishing off a night where Portales went 21-of-41 — but the Braves didn’t have time to set up a final shot from the rebound.
In a game where they were physically overmatched, with the possible exception of Joe, the Braves still nearly pulled off the first 3-14 game upset since St. Michael’s did it against Robertson in 2011.
“We knew they could do that all season long,” Braves coach Jo Jo Valdez said. “I told them you can’t take anything with you; you have to leave it on the floor. They did, and I’m very proud of the girls.”
The key from the second quarter on, Valdez said, was not letting Portales exploit its size and speed advantages. Portales still outrebounded SFIS 35-16, including a 24-6 advantage on the offensive glass, but it was 9-2 Portales after the first quarter.
“We were telling them you’ve got to box out,” Valdez said. “You can’t allow them to get third and fourth shots. It could have been worse. I know the girls wanted to play a man (defense), but you can’t let those girls try to spread you out. The only one playing man was the one on the ball.”
Now it’s onto Albuquerque, where Portales is two wins away from getting back to the title game for the first time since 2008.
“Every game here on out is going to be a battle,” Cox said. “Everybody that’s left has beaten somebody. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be fun.”