Rio Rancho’s big man Maddox Presser comes up with a loose ball in a mad second-half scramble, only needing to know who to pass it to. (Herron photo)
Rio Rancho High School senior Maddox Presser scored the game’s first basket Thursday evening in the Thunderdome, but it accounted for the last points he’d score in the game and the last time the Rams had the lead.
The host Cleveland Storm (20-7) scored the next six points and never trailed again, their lead ranging from two to 10 points, with a tie at 15-all, before pulling off a 48-40 victory over the Rams (18-10).
The win sends the Storm into the District 1-5A championship game in Volcano Vista High School’s Ring of Fire gymnasium Saturday at 7 p.m. Volcano Vista (24-1) is the regular-season district champ, and no doubt can’t forget which team it was that ended its memorable 47-game winning streak on Jan. 21 – the Storm.
The Storm and Hawks last met there to settle the 1-5A title after the 2017-18 season, a 67-64 Hawks win – but the Storm avenged that with a 53-50 victory in the state quarterfinals, on their way to the championship game.
Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, Storm coach Sean Jimenez said he expects no better than a 6 or 7 seed when the bracket is released Sunday afternoon, while Rams coach Wally Salata figures his team should get a first-round home game with a seed of 7 or (most likely) 8.
“I think we can get a home game,” Salata said. “We’re 18-10 – a respectable record.”
The Rams were plagued by poor free-throw shooting throughout the game Thursday, and no coach would be happy with a 7 of 17 outing from the charity stripe. The Storm were 12 of 18, but Jimenez said he wasn’t overly happy with that: “I want 75, 80. Eighty would be perfect, because as coaches, we always have that goal up there. But 67% is a little low.”.
The Storm led after the first quarter, 12-9, and maintained that three-point edge at halftime, 24-21.
The 33-29 CHS lead after the third period, dissolved when Jayden Johnson snagged a Storm turnover and scored on a layup to make it 33-31, but that was as close as his team would get.
With 6:53 to go, Daniel Steverson was fouled and uncharacteristically missed two free throws, only to find himself back at the line 30 seconds later, on Jamal Bynum’s third foul of the game, and sink both to make it 35-31.
“We go as he goes,” Jimenez said of No. 5. “When we played them last Thursday night, he was trying to shoot right away, and they packed him in. So we told him, start sdriving and kicking instead of driving and shooting, and it opens the game for him.”
Steverson played like a man possessed, scoring 12 of his team-high 20 points I the fourth quarter, when he was 3 of 5 at the line and sank n off-balance 3-pointer a moment before he could be called for traveling. He concluded his team’s scoring on a nifty alley-oop bucket and sank the ensuing “and one.”
Cleveland was 6 of 10 at the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, while the Rams were 3 of 7, and missed the front end of a one-and-one, which cost them two more possible points.
“One for 12 (from 3-point range) ain’t gonna cut it,” Salata said. The Storm were 6 of 19 from behind the arc with four of their five starters, plus reserve Isaiah Sandoval, having at least one 3-pointer.
“We won a game last night (at AHA) and had to play back-to-back; that’s how it is at state. But the thing is, we held them under 500 – we’ve just got to figure things out offensively
“When we cut it to two, we had shots and we couldn’t put it in. Our shooting tonight was atrocious.”
Jimenez was happy with the way his team defended Presser, who scored 16 and 15 points in the teams’ first two meetings, with three-time All-State linebacker Stratton Shufelt muscling him around in the paint.
Dribbles: Earlier this week, Steverson was named the 1-5A Player of the Year, with teammates Remy Albrecht and Nic Trujillo joining him on the first team; Josia Ortiz was an honorable mention selection.
… Bynum was named the 1-5A Defensive Player of the Year, and was joined on the first team by Johnson and Presser; Mikey Wood was honorable mention.