Cleveland’s Stratton Shufelt, left, and Daniel Steverson (5) battle AHA’s Marquise Renfro for the ball in first-half action Friday evening. (Herron photo)

It’s not hype: The biggest boys’ basketball game for Rio Rancho high school fans is Thursday evening at 7 in the RAC, where Rio Rancho entertains the Cleveland Storm.
The Storm (18-6, 5-1) are tied for the top spot in District 1-5A, and won the first meeting handily, 85-74, in the Thunderdome on Jan. 31, their 13th victory in their last 15 games against the Rams.
Looking ahead, if the Storm win their game at home against Cibola Tuesday and beat the Rams Thursday, and Volcano Vista (22-1, 5-1) wins its home game Tuesday vs. Rio Rancho and its game Thursday evening at Atrisco Heritage Academy, the Storm and Hawks — if still tied — will decide the top seed for the district tournament with a tie-breaker next Tuesday.
The top seed, of course, hosts the district championship game next Saturday, Feb. 25.
The district runner-up gets a home game for the 1-5A tournament, while the loser gets at least one more road game on its way to the semifinal contest next Friday.
Cleveland 50, Atrisco Heritage Academy 48: In an intense contest that went down to the final seconds Friday night in the South Valley, the Storm (18-6, 5-1) held off the Jaguars, thanks to Remy Albrecht’s free throws with 14.9 seconds left in regulation.
AHA’s Latavious Morris had an opportunity to tie the game with 2.0 seconds left, but after he missed the front end of his one-and-one, the Storm scrambled to get the rebound and the game ended.
“We’re just fortunate to walk away with a win,” CHS coach Sean Jimenez said. “You give (Morris) 10 more of those free throws, and he makes them. He missed that one. He’s a heck of a player.
“We’ve had battles over the past seven years with them; we’re fortunate to get a win,” he added.
There were 18 lead changes, and eight ties. The final deadlock was at 48, on a putback by AHA’s Antonio Ortiz with 1:36 to go.
The Storm’s Josiah Ortiz then missed a 3-pointer and the Jaguars (19-6, 3-4) got the rebound. Fouled, AHA’s Brandon Lopez missed the front end of his one-and-one, and Nic Trujillo grabbed the rebound.
Jimenez called a timeout, and the Storm almost turned the ball over on a bad pass, but recovered. That soon led to Albrecht being fouled and coming up big at the line — and Morris’s miss paving the way for the road win.
Daniel Steverson led the Storm with 24 points and was a perfect 67 for 6 at the foul line. Morris led the Jaguars with 17, including two 3s in the fourth quarter, each time giving his team the lead.
“Playing these important games really bring the best out of everybody,” Steverson said. “It’s really exciting getting to play with everybody’s high competition.”
Atrisco Heritage Academy 53, Rio Rancho 50: The Rams took a step backward the evening of Feb. 8, with a couple of missed free throws in the fourth quarter and an errant play to win on a buzzer-beater.
Neither team led by more than six points throughout the game, and there were six lead changes in the fourth quarter.
The Rams took a 39-38 lead into the final eight minutes, with the Jaguars tying the game at 46 and then taking the lead on the second of two free throws by Morris, who finished with a game-high 15 points, with 3:04 showing on the clock.
Jayden Johnson’s layup with 2:43 to go gave the Rams what would be their last lead, 48-47.
After a basket by AHA’s Lorenzo Pacheco made it 49-48, Johnson was at the foul line for two shots — and missed both, after making his first three earlier in the game.
Morris was fouled again with 35.1 seconds left, made both and the Rams were down by three, 51-48.
The Rams turned the ball over less than nine seconds later, and the Jaguars made them pay, with a slam dunk by Antonio Ortiz.
Hanging from the rim longer than the officials thought was reasonable cost him a technical and put the Rams’ Maddox Presser at the line, and his pair of free throws made it 53-50.
Thanks to a Jaguars turnover in the waning seconds, the Rams had an opportunity to tie the game — if they could sink a 3-pointer.
That’s when they didn’t run the play Salata had for them, as Jamal Bynum – who’d beaten the Jaguars on a buzzer-beater on their court — missed his trey.
“We didn’t execute at the end,” Salata said. “They didn’t run the play that we were supposed to run. (After) a timeout, if you can’t run the play, it’s frustrating.
“I mean, we’re down three; we need a 3-point shot,” he explained. “If we run our ‘stagger’ play and don’t get our screens, then the play’s not going to work. We were supposed to set two screens, drive and then we had two 3-point shooters in the corners, and that didn’t develop.
“It shouldn’t have come down to that. I thought there were too many turnovers, times when we threw the ball away,” he said. “Against a team like this, you can’t have 15 turnovers. They did a great job defensively on us. Every time we drove, they cut the lanes off. We did a horrible job — they just drove to the basket.”
Johnson led the Rams with 12 points, with Jerry Archuleta and freshman Chris Lucero coming off the bench to sink three 3s and score 11 apiece; the Rams’ bench outscored the Jaguars reserves by a decisive 22-5.
Rio Rancho 73, Cibola 50: “If the average basketball fan doesn’t like fouls or free throws, Cibola wasn’t the place to be Friday night,” Salata said. “There were 51 fouls and 65 free throw attempts that led to a very long game.”
Bynum, Johnson and three Cougars were gone before the game ended.
“Rio Rancho shot a dismal 18 of 39 from the line, while Cibola (3-22, 0-7) shot better, going 18 of 26,” Salata added.
The Rams had four players in double figures: Josiah Marfil, who’d missed the game with AHA, had 16 points; Mikey Wood had 14 and 10 rebounds; Johnson had 14, and Presser had 11.
RRHS was down to eight players, as game time. Lucero and Archuleta were sick with the flu.
Going into Thursday’s showdown, the Rams — with their next game on Vanetine’s Day evening at VVHS —  are 7-3 in the RAC.
“We’ve got to win at home,” Salata said. It will be Senior Night Thursday for five Rams: team manager Austin Ford, Bynum, Estevan Morales, Presser and Wood.
Dribbles: The District 1-5A tournament starts Tuesday with the usual format: the first-place team at the fourth-place team, and that game’s winner advancing to the site of the third-place team, etc., until the championship game on the floor of the regular-season champ.
… The first round of the state tournament, with higher seeds serving as host teams, will be March 3-4. The state tournament, with the Rams and Storm certainly to be among the 16-team field, runs March 7-11 at The Pit.
… The latest MaxPreps poll had Cleveland at No. 4 and the Rams at No. 8.