Rams senior Julia Espinsoa (35) gets up for a first-half rebound. She scored all 8 of her points in the second quarter Friday evening. (Herron photo)
The Lori Mabrey Era at Rio Rancho High School got off to a good start Friday evening in the Rams Activities Center, where the former Rams assistant guided her team to a 38-29 victory in their season opener vs. Piedra Vista.
The game was originally scheduled for the 26th, but when Piedra Vista’s football team earned the right to host the Class 5A championship game in Farmington, Mabrey agreed with the school’s request to change the date of the girls’ basketball game.
Mabrey, known as Lori Stephenson in her eight seasons on the bench at RRHS for original head coach Bobby McIntyre, thus began her 30th year in coaching. Those three decades included eight seasons with “Bobby Mac,” and then 16 seasons down the hill as head coach at Cibola High, where her Cougars were in five championship games, which they won in 2015.
As always, Stephenson teams are good on defense, and although the Rams didn’t play a big role in “forcing” turnovers, the Panthers were mistake-prone early and committed 13 turnovers before scoring their first field goal.
That didn’t come until early in the second quarter, and Piedra Vista never led in the contest, although the teams were knotted at5 and 7 in the second stanza.
Senior Julia Espinoza — one of four returnees from last year’s team — scored all 8 of her points in the Rams’ 12-point period, giving them a 16-9 lead at halftime.
By then, the teams had combined for 35 turnovers; 20 for the visitors, 15 for the Rams.
An 8-1 run to open the second half gave RRHS a 14-point lead, although the Panthers closed to within 26-18 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Rams’ lead stayed between nine and 13 the rest of the way.
McKenna Lee and Espinosa shared scoring honors for the Rams, with 8 apiece.
“I told (my team) it’s always nicer to start out 1-0 instead of 0-1,” Mabrey said. “I’m definitely proud of them for doing enough to get the W. I told them I didn’t feel the game was ever in jeopardy, but I thought we turned the ball over a lot, just, really, unforced turnovers.
“Nothing that team was doing made us turn it over, and we have to get better about making decisions at the offensive end of the floor,” Mabrey said. “I think these girls were nervous a little bit, pretty much most of them are new to the varsity, and I think they were pressing their game a little bit.
Dunks: The varsity victory Friday gave Rio Rancho a sweep of the Panthers. Lataya Spratting scored 17 and Bella Trevino added 10 in the JV’s 62-25 rout; Serena McHugh had 15 to lead the Rams’ C-team to its 34-21 victory.
… The Rams’ are in the Bobby Rodriguez Capital City Invitational in Santa Fe Thursday through Saturday, meeting Valencia Thursday at 2 p.m. in a first-round game at Santa Fe High. Their annual Rio Rancho Invite, formerly the Mel Otero Invite, runs Dec. 8-10, with the Rams facing Grants at 1 p.m. on the 8th.
… Cleveland High School’s girls team lost its opener at Clovis on Nov. 22, 63-56. The Storm and Wildcats were knotted at 56 after regulation, but Clovis outscored their guests 7-0 in the four-minute overtime session. The Storm visit Albuquerque High Tuesday evening at 7, then face Los Alamos Thursday at 8 a.m. in their first-round game at the Rodriguez event in Santa Fe.