ALBUQUERQUE — Hatch Valley’s roster for the Class 3A state tournament is dotted with players listed at around 5-feet, 7-inches tall.
Could’ve fooled Portales.
At one juncture of the deciding fifth game, the smaller Bears seemed to have the Lady Rams in a world of hurt. Three blocks in four points and Hatch led 11-9.
But Portales, though inexperienced in spots, is still the reigning 3A champion.
The Lady Rams rebounded from their deficit to claim six of the final seven points and escape with a 25-20, 25-27, 25-16, 20-25, 15-12 victory at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
“We could have won in three, I think,” said Portales senior setter Dallas Russell. “We just stopped hitting hard — we started tipping. We just needed to pound it at them.”
The match was a back-and-forth affair with the teams trading game victories.
Hatch Valley (18-3), the fourth seed in the tourney, forced a fifth game by moving out to a 24-16 lead and then staving off a late Portales run.
When Bears seniors Maria Mendoza and Samantha Bustamante scored consecutive stuffs on the Lady Rams, Portales (14-10) was two points behind late and in desperate straits. But kills by Ashley Hernandez and Macy Mitchell drew the score even at 11-11.
At another deadlock at 12-12, ninth-grader Mitchell scored a kill and that was followed by two straight spikes by junior Jenna Wagner to seal the win.
Portales will play district nemesis Ruidoso at 2 p.m. today at UNM’s Johnson Center.
“We just went through stages where we were powerful and then through others where there was fear,” Rams coach Ruth Chavez said. “But we’d overcome it and come back. We just went through stages where we quit swinging.”
The Lady Rams played two matches on Thursday as a result of finishing second in a pool on Wednesday. Portales had to play an opening-round game Thursday morning and easily ousted Cuba 25-12, 25-13, 25-9 to move into the quarterfinals.
“It’s good because we’re young and inexperienced, but — like I told them — we’re in the final four,” Chavez said.
As for playing top-seeded Ruidoso, which has beaten her team four times, the Portales coach was still game.
“We know what they do, they know what we do,” she said. “But I believe in my team and I know they’re going to go battle and give everything they have.”