The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By Peter Stein
Staff writer 

Rams get top spot


February 24, 2019

Kevin Wilson

Portales guard Codi Flores drives around Lovington defender Alexa Bell in the first half of Friday's District 4-4A game at the Ram Athletic Center.

PORTALES - However the rest of the basketball season plays out, this week was a benchmark for the Portales girls team.

Playing at the Ram Athletic Center for the first time in two weeks, Portales' girls escaped with a 58-55 victory over Artesia that gave them sole possession of first place in District 4-4A. They kept first place for good Friday, topping Lovington 45-40 to take the top seed in this week's District 4-4A tournament.

You gotta have heart

In a tense game with obviously high stakes, the Lady Rams came through, as Mattison Blakey's nearly coast-to-coast layup put them up 56-55 in the waning seconds, and they held on to win by three points.

It was all about heart, according to Portales girls coach Wade Fraze.

"I told the girls after the game, on paper they outplayed us," Fraze said Tuesday night. "Artesia outplayed us in every respect, except in what I felt like counted the most - heart. The girls never gave up on the game or each other, and that's the reason we were able to pull it out. It wasn't anything statistic-wise because that wasn't good. But the teamwork and the heart is what got us over the hump."

Portales improved to 4-1 in district play, while dropping Artesia to 3-2 in district.

The biggest lead of the girls game was held by Portales, 35-27, in the third quarter. But the Lady Bulldogs gradually chipped away at that, and after closing to within 54-52, they took their first lead of the second half when Kyrah Gonzales' midcourt steal led to a leftside trey from Brehnan Davis with roughly two minutes to go in the fourth.

The teams took turns not being able to score and it was still 55-54 Artesia when Gonzales stepped to the line in a one-and-one situation with 25.1 seconds remaining. Gonzales' shot was off and Portales' Taylee Rippee snared the defensive board. She zipped the outlet pass to Blakey who drove almost the entire distance of the court for a layup that gave Portales a 56-55 advantage.

"I was thinking there were 25 seconds on the clock, we have to get a shot," Blakey recalled. "(The lane) was wide open so I drove it up and shot it."

Artesia then turned the ball over and was in a position of having to intentionally foul. The first intentional came with 6.9 seconds left, but Portales wasn't yet in the bonus. The Lady Rams were bonus-bound on the next foul with 5.5 seconds remaining, sending Taris Rippee to the line. She calmly sank both free throws to make it a 58-55 game.

The Lady Bulldogs pushed the ball up quickly, but Portales' smothering defense kept them from getting off a shot attempt before the buzzer. The Lady Rams had prevailed and claimed the inside track for first place in district.

And they had survived one of their biggest challenges of the season, survived a pressure-packed game.

"It's nerve-racking," Blakey said after scoring a game-high 25 points. "Since a lot of us are young, we don't have the confidence yet. But we really pulled together and played as a team and worked really hard together."

Girls hold off Cats

Friday saw the Portales girls get off to what should have been a rough start with turnovers on their first three possessions. However, the Rams ended up taking an 8-1 lead early as Lovington had shooting difficulties.

"I wasn't concerned, but it was frustrating," Fraze said. "It just shows we didn't come out mentally ready to play."

Portales went 19-of-32 from the line, taking advantage of Lovington foul trouble throughout the second half. Fraze noted frustrations with Portales' defense and free-throw shooting, but said he could look past them as abnormalities and accept the win.

Taylee Rippee scored 14 of her team-high 20 in the second half, and outshot Lovington from the line by herself (11-of-18 to the Wildcats' 6-of-12).

"I thought we were more patient on offense," Rippee said of the second half. "Our defense wasn't as good as it should be."

Lovington never led, but probably had a good chance to lead without empty possessions early in the first or fourth quarters - including a 5:30 stretch in the fourth without a basket.

"It's about execution," Lovington coach Casey Pack said. "You come down for three or four empty possessions, it just killed us. We've got to be better at what we're doing, and know what we're doing."

Rylee Mapes led all scorers with 22 points for Lovington, which will visit Goddard on Tuesday to open the district tournament.

Guard Alexis Ryen had a frustrating night with foul trouble, but still managed to grab a team-high nine rebounds before fouling out.


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