The annual Jalene Berger Allstate Holiday Hoops Classic gets its 2022 champion crowned tonight (Dec. 30), when the host Rio Rancho Rams and St. Pius X Sartans tip off for all the marbles at 7 p.m. in the RAC.

After St. Pius, one of Salata’s earlier coaching stops and where he played his, defeated Rio Grande – another of Rams coach Wally Salata’s coaching stops – 45-41, the Rams routed blitzed Española Valley  63-28 in the other semifinal Thursday evening.

The easy victory sent the Rams into the Berger championship tilt for the sixth time in the past six seasons, excluding the 2020 pandemic season, when it wasn’t played. The Rams have won the last three championship games, and four in all, having also won in 2014.

Rams junior Jayden Johnson had few words, but many points in the second semifinal game, after the Rams jumped out to a 19-10 lead by the end of the opening quarter and never looked back.

After EVHS cut the margin to 19-13, the Rams closed out the second quarter on a 22-3 run, leaving no doubt as to who the winner would be. The game’s final three minutes were played under the mercy rule, with the Rams leading by 35 or more points.

Johnson scored 11 of what would be a team-high 21 points in the first period and at halftime, he had out-scored the Sundevils 17-16.

He said he wasn’t sure if it was his best game of the season, but, said, “My teammates did a good job trapping (the ball). They couldn’t get anything.”

Before the game, Salata said he didn’t want his players to foul too much and send opponents to the foul line.

Check and check.

“We were able to listen to what he said and really applied it to the game.”

Espanola Valley players attempted only a dozen free throws, making six; the Rams were 11 of 14 at the charity stripe.

After their 10-point “explosion” in the first quarter, EVHS managed period points of 6, 8 and 4, respectively.

In addition to Johnson’s 21, Jerry

Jayden Johnson goes up for two of his 17 first-half points Thursday evening. (Photo by Joe Grimando)

Archuleta and reserve Josiah Marfil had 11 points apiece, nearly equaling the points (13) of the five Sundevil starters.

The Rams are 6-4 all-time vs. the Sartans, and 2-0 since Salata took the reins in 2009.

The is the first trip to the Holiday Hoops championship game for the Sartans, who lost to the Rams in a 2021 first-round game of the tournament.