Playing the No. 1 team in the state – and an unbeaten one at that – host Rio Rancho was again no match for Volcano Vista in the RAC Wednesday evening.

Leading by double-digits for 20-some minutes, the Hawks (23-0, 7-0) held off the Rams’ late charge for a 60-51 triumph.

“They’re good,” understated Rams coach Wally Salata. “They have every position – they’re good. Defensively, they dictated the second quarter, when we had seven turnovers, and that’s kinda where they got away from us a little bit.”

Rio Rancho never led in the game, with a Jamal Bynum buzzer-beating layup ending the opening period with the Hawks ahead, 17-11.

VVHS opened the second quarter on a 12-2 run to take a double-digit lead with 6:31 left in the first half and maintained that cushion until Mikey Wood hit his team’s only 3-pointer with 1:10 left in regulation to reduce the Rams’ deficit to 56-47.

A Hawks turnover later, Keagan Caton scored on a layup to make it 56-49. Six seconds later, the Hawks turned the ball over again, but the Rams were unable to capitalize and didn’t score again, while VVHS closed out the game by making four of six foul shots.

The Hawks managed only one field goal in the fourth quarter, and sank seven free throws to rack up their fifth win in a row over the Rams.

Bynum led the Rams in scoring for the first time this season, with 14 points; Caton had 10. Kaden Valdez, Ja’Kwon Hill and Jaden Malone each had 15 for the Hawks, whose big man 6-8 senior Sean Alter – managed only 4 points.

The Hawks didn’t need their big man in the paint, converting quite a few backdoor layups and sinking nine 3s, to only Wood’s trey for the Rams.

“When you’re playing a veteran team like Volcano, you cannot make mistakes like we did in the second quarter,” Salata said. “Why can’t we have that energy (like we had in the fourth quarter) earlier in the game?

“Again, the energy has to come from the players. As a coach, I can only give so much energy,” he continued. And I feel like I’m giving energy. The players have to respond – and I just thought we waited too long.

“We cut it to seven … we’re never out of a game. To beat Volcano, you have to play four quarters and we didn’t do that tonight.”

Looking ahead to Friday night in the Thunderdome

“The bottom line with us, it’s coming down to Cleveland Friday night,” Salata said. “Whoever wins that game is gonna get the 3 seed. That’s a given … That game is going to determine thi8rd place.”

The Storm were beaten again by Cibola, 65-55, Thursday evening in the Cougars’ lair down the hill.

“We have to have more urgency here going forward.”

Game time Friday is 7 p.m.

The Storm have won the last 13 meetings with the Rams, including a thrilling come-from-behind 54-46 contest in the RAC on Feb. 1.

“We control our destiny – we win, and I think we can get a home game (for the postseason),” Salata added.

Good news for fans – and players

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has lifted the mandate for face masks in indoor public settings effectively immediately.

She made the announcement Thursday afternoon during a news conference where she was discussing the 30-day legislative session that wrapped up at noon.

She cited a recent decrease in New Mexico’s COVID-19 case rate and said the state’s handling of the pandemic had saved “tens of thousands of lives.”


Jamal Bynum had this second-quarter shot blocked Wednesday evening in the RAC, but he still led the Rams with 14 points. (Herron photo)