Portales freshman Tara Johnson drives to the basket in the Lady Rams’ win over Santa Fe Indian School in the Class 3A state semifinals on Friday at The Pit. (CNJ staff photo: Rick White)
By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer
ALBUQUERQUE — Posts generally don’t handle the ball too far away from the basket, but Portales’ Morgan Hill is not like most posts.
With Hill often bringing the ball up court against Santa Fe Indian’s signature fullcourt pressure, Portales controlled the tempo and the game en route to a 50-32 win at The Pit on Thursday in a Class 3A state girls semifinal and a rematch of last year’s title clash.
The Lady Rams (23-6) face top-seeded Socorro (29-1), a 40-39 winner on Thursday over Grants, in today’s 6 p.m. championship.
Portales coach Brenda Gomez said she and her team have been waiting a long time to get the chance to make up for last season’s 42-37 loss to the Lady Braves.
“Let’s see … 365 days,” Gomez laughed. “It’s been a constant thing on my mind, and I think the kids’ (minds) too.”
Hill, who finished with eight points and six rebounds, was glad the road to the championship went through Santa Fe Indian.
“We were so fired up because last year they beat us,” Hill said. “So we wanted to just get them back and get to that championship game.”
Senior Megan Kabrick scored a season-high 17 points to lead the Lady Rams, who are making their sixth straight championship game appearance. Portales has won three of the last five titles.
Gomez said going up against the Lady Braves’ press last year helped her scheme to use Hill to break the press in the rematch.
“Last year when they played against us they pushed us to the side and we turned the ball over several times,” Gomez said. “(Hill’s) done super; she can really handle the ball. I’m not going to say for her size, but for any kid on the floor.”
Portales broke Santa Fe Indian’s press by lobbing the inbounds pass to the 6-foot-1 Hill, who then either dished to a guard or took the ball upcourt herself.
Hill enjoyed her expanded role.
“Our play was to get it in to me,” Hill said. “A lot of times I was just open so I thought I could beat my man and get it down the floor. I don’t usually do that. It was kind of fun.”
Freshman point guard Tara Johnson and sophomore sub Bethany Self added nine points each for Portales. Junior guard Shirell Begay led the Lady Braves (23-6) with 12 points, followed by sophomore guard Marcelita Povijua with 10.
Santa Fe, which also relies heavily on 3-pointers, went cold from behind the arc in the second half. The Lady Braves were 0-for-13 from behind the arc after the break after going just 3-of-10 in the first two quarters.
“We pressured them like they did to us last year,” Kabrick said.
The Lady Braves led 19-17 in the opening minutes of the second quarter, but Portales closed the half on a 12-3 run to take control.
Santa Fe Indian coach John Abeyta said he could tell by his team’s free throw shooting (9-of-19) that his team was having a poor day.
“We played hard,” Abeyta said. “We just didn’t execute like we could have. It was just one of those days where nothing went right.”
Santa Fe Indian’s starting center, senior Janine Chinana, played limited minutes because of foul trouble.
“That was real big for us,” Abeyta said. “Not to be mean, but there is no way we could have won today. Janine is one of the main focal points on our team.”
Chinana had three fouls before halftime and finished with four.
Self said winning decisively was the icing on the cake of a big win.
“I’m glad that we got to get revenge on them,” Self said. “Not just a little, but to kill ’em.”