By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
ALBUQUERQUE — Portales thought it played at the opponent’s preferred tempo in the semifinals of the Hope Christian tournament on Friday. Navajo Pine, meanwhile, thought it played at the Rams’ pace.
Whatever was the truth, it was Navajo Pine that came away with a 48-44 victory over Portales to move into the championship.
“We weren’t doing things that we’re known for — as far as working the ball to get a good shot inside. We kinda got to playing their game,” Portales coach Mark Gallegos said. “We came in at half and said we didn’t play that well. Then we went out and got a three-point lead and started doing the same thing.”
The game went awry for Portales (7-6) at the midway point of the third quarter — after the Rams went ahead 26-23 when Skyler Partin scored on a putback off a missed shot by Chance Sherburne with 4:25 left in the period.
Navajo Pine (9-6) responded with a bucket by Othell Wilson and four-straight free throws for a 29-26 lead. Navajo Pine added to its lead when Allen Dechee and Timothee Chee teamed to strip the ball from Portales and Chee went in for a layup. After another Portales turnover, Randy Nez hit a shot for Navajo Pine and converted a free throw for a 34-26 advantage.
Navajo Pine outscored Portales 11-0 over the last half of the third quarter.
“We didn’t play to our full potential. We just never got going,” said Sherburne, who scored 25 of his team’s 44 points. “They got the lead and spread the ball, then we had to play catch-up.”
“We had turnovers on the offensive end and couldn’t get a defensive stop,” Gallegos said.
In the last minute, while clinging to a 44-43 lead, Navajo Pine’s Chee slipped by a Rams’ double-team at midcourt and went in for a layup. After a free throw from Portales’ Chris Mosier with 19 seconds remaining, reserve Brian Hardy sealed the win with a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left.
“I knew that if we tried to run with them that they would control the boards and we would put up wild shots,” Navajo Pine coach Doranci Poyer said. “I think, to kind of compensate for our size, that we’d have to slow it down and use some time — frustrate them a little bit and bring them out of their tight zone.”
The Warriors’ leading scorers, Pernell Begay (11 points) and Othell Wilson (10) fouled out with just over three minutes remaining. Portales also suffered attrition through foul trouble as Mosier and B.J. Kirvin headed to the bench with their fifth fouls in the last quarter.
“We had a chance to tie it up with about 36 seconds to go, but we missed the (shot),” said Gallegos. “But I’m proud of the way our guys came back after falling behind.”