Portales is guaranteed one more home game in the first round of the state basketball tournament. But senior Nick Bliss still put up one heck of a home finale, just in case.
The Ram guard scored 10 of his game-high 32 points in a 27-5 third-quarter blowout, helping Portales defeat Lovington 68-50 for the District 4-3A championship.
The victory ensures Portales (19-8), as district champion, will host a first-round playoff game in the Class 3A state tournament next weekend. And it also meant that the Rams wrapped up the district title for a fifth straight season.
"Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win our fifth district championship, in a row and it's been a big push for our guys," Portales coach Mark Gallegos said. "And I'm real proud of them."
Lovington (12-14) trailed from the get-go as Portales scored the first seven points and was also up 10-2 in the first quarter.
But the Wildcats used the 3-point shooting of Alvaro Castro to stay close. Castro, who led his team with 15 points, nailed four treys in the first half, three late in the second quarter, as Lovington trailed 27-25 going into intermission.
While Castro was impressing from the outside, Bliss was making a living off driving into the lane. Portales' last nine points of the first half were generated by forays of that sort — either through points from Bliss himself or from assists to open teammates.
The offensive production for Bliss continued in the third quarter while Gallegos made an adjustment to limit Castro's effectiveness.
"We decided to come out and press them a little bit. Part of it was my fault really. We got out of the press too early and they hit some big shots," Gallegos said. "I give them a lot of credit to exploit us defensively. But we went a little box-and-one on Alvaro Castro and I thought that kind of helped us."
The Rams were up 34-29 when Shawn Carrasco banked in a three-pointer with 4:56 remaining in the third. Following a pair of made foul shots by Bliss, he then found Billy Good with an assist and a 41-29 lead.
Portales' roll continued when Jesus Davalos picked off a Wildcats' pass and found Bliss for a fastbreak layup. With 1:47 left in the period, Bliss then buried a 3-pointer himself and the Rams were comfortably ahead 47-29.
"It's his time of year to shine,” Gallegos said of Bliss. “I don't think people really know how good of a player he is.”
After the game, all-district honors were accorded to Carrasco, Marcus Slocum, Good and, of course, Bliss.
"This year, we've got a team of five weapons every single night. Tonight it was open for me, it was my turn," Bliss said. "Everybody gets a turn. This is my senior year and it might be the last basketball I ever play, so I was just trying to heat it up."