Portales senior Ashleah Richards (50) battles for a rebound during the Lady Rams’ 50-48 quarterfinal win over Thoreau on Wednesday in the Class 3A girls state tournament at The Pit. (Freedom Newspapers: Jesse Wolfersberger)
By Jesse Wolfersberger: Freedom Newspapers
ALBUQUERQUE — After bouncing third-seeded Shiprock 55-43 in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state tournament on Tuesday, the sixth-seeded Santa Fe Indian School will meet Portales in the tourney for the second straight year.
Last season, the two schools met in the Class 3A title game, the Lady Braves coming out on top 42-37. The teams play for the first time since last season at 8 a.m. today at The Pit.
“When you get into games like this, there is only one thing you need,” Indian School coach John Abeyta said. “And that’s a lot of heart. If you have the heart and you don’t want to lose, you won’t lose.
“Portales is a very strong team. We had a good game with them last year, but the one thing I can say about the girls here in my lockerroom is they’ve got a lot of heart.”
Santa Fe Indian (23-5) lost no starters from last year’s championship team, the Lady Rams (22-6) return all but one.
Portales coach Brenda Gomez said desire is a factor, but not to count out her team in that category.
“We’ll see,” she said. “(Heart) is definitely an issue. Who wants it more. We just have to come out and play. We’ll see.”
The Lady Braves took the title last season as the eighth seed. Despite returning all five starters, they received the sixth seed in this year’s tournament, where they again look to upset the tourney’s favorites.
“It’s not that we like (being the underdogs) it’s that’s what they give us,” Abeyta said. “That just motivates (the players) even more, to prove that we’re no fluke and we deserve to be here.
“We’re two spots higher than last year, so we’re getting better,” Abeyta laughed.
In Santa Fe Indian’s win on Tuesday, thousands of Lady Braves fans rooted the team on, a scene Portales experienced first hand in last year’s title game.
“Last year was the first time we’d met that kind of situation, that kind of environment,” Gomez said. “But it’s not a factor anymore. As long as we don’t pay attention to it and the officials don’t pay attention to it.”
The Lady Braves coach said his team’s following is key to the team’s success.
“We have a great fan base,” Abeyta said. “And when we go out and play, that’s who we play for. This is built on tradition from the younger teams that went to state. When we won it last year — they won it. And this ride that we’re taking right now — they’re on it with us.”
Abeyta said he thinks the crowd factor will be difference maker again this year, even though they play in the first game on today’s schedule.
“It’s going to be more (of a factor),” he said. “At 8 a.m. you will see our people here. You know what, Portales is big, they’re strong, and they want us, but you know what, we want them back.
“Heart isn’t determined by height,” Abeyta said. “And as our saying goes, ‘We are the Lady Braves and we bow down to no one.’”
In the Class 1A girls tournament, Elida (25-2) downed Des Moines 39-38 in the quarterfinals. They meet top-seeded Tatum (29-1) in the semifinals at 3:15 today.