Traditionally, the Cleveland High boys basketball team has had its problems playing in Volcano Vista’s Ring of Fire.

During original head coach Brian Smith’s tenure, the Storm were 4-5 in games at VVHS; since Sean Jimenez took over, they’re now 2-5 in games played there, including losses in two District 1-5A championship games.

As usual, the games are hard-fought — in the last five Storm-Hawks games at VVHS, the winning margin has been five points or less.

Such was the case Wednesday evening, when the No. 1 Storm (17-1, 0-1) stayed close to the Hawks (15-2, 2-1) — and even briefly led — in the decisive second half, only to see hopes for an undefeated season end with a 51-46 loss.

It didn’t seem like the team that had gotten off to its best start in history was the same team in the Ring of Fire. Here’s why:

  • Dorian Lewis sank two 3-pointers and had 11 of his team’s first 13 points, all in the game’s first five minutes, then didn’t score again until the fourth quarter;
  • The big man inside, Tre Watson, had a bucket in the first quarter, went 0 for 3 at the foul line in the third period, and scored another basket in the fourth quarter, when he fouled out with 2:24 to go, finishing with 4 points;
  • Lucas Lovato, seemingly unable to miss a 3-point shot in the Storm’s recent win over Manzano — he had seven treys in that victory — was unable to find his touch at VVHS and missed all four of his 3-point shots;
  • Evan Gonzales, arguably the Storm’s best 3-point shooter, didn’t suit up after breaking his nose in practice last Friday; and
  • The third-ranked Hawks, who had been No. 1 until losing to the Storm, 48-47, in the APS Metro Championship game on Jan. 11, seemingly couldn’t miss a shot, shooting 82 percent from the field in the second half, making all seven of their fourth-quarter attempts. (They were just 3 of 5 at the foul line, with the two misses being the front ends of one-and-ones, or the deficit could have been more than five points.)

The Storm had an early 14-4 lead, which turned into a 14-9 advantage heading into the second period. The lead was six, 22-16, at halftime.

Cleveland’s last lead of the game was 32-30 after a pair of Jeff Davison free throws. Dion Battle’s free throw with 1:26 left in the third quarter gave the Hawks the lead to keep, although Watson had a chance to at least tie the game with 33.5 seconds left in the period, only to miss both shots.

A 14-4 outburst propelled the Hawks to an 11-point lead, and the Storm could get no closer than five the rest of the way.

Dorian Lewis made this layup and was fouled, and also made the free throw early in the first quarter at VVHS.

Storm warnings: Setting the stage for the varsity’s loss, the CHS junior varsity team (5-4) squandered a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and lost, 69-67, in overtime. Too many missed free throws down the stretch set the stage for the Hawks’ victory.

… The Storm have two district games this week, both starting at 7: They visit Atrisco Heritage Academy Wednesday and are back in the Storm Center Friday to face Cibola.