Rio Rancho’s Maddox Presser looms over Cibola’s Daniel Benham Tuesday evening in the Cougars’ lair. (Gary Herron photo)

ALBUQUERQUE — Rio Rancho High School boys basketball coach Wally Salata was worried about how his players would respond after absorbing a disappointing homecourt loss in their last outing against Atrisco Heritage Academy.
“What type of team are we after a loss?” wondered Salata. “We didn’t play very well against Atrisco. We shot 21 more shots than Atrisco — we missed ‘bunnies,’ we missed a lot of easy shots.
“I wanted to see how we would respond,” he added. “Cibola is a dangerous team; they’re missing players, just like we’re missing players.” (Rams senior guard Andrew Sanchez missed the game.)
His worries were wasted: The Rams scored the first six points of their Tuesday night game at Cibola — played in a gym devoid of fans — and were never threatened, posting a 64-43 victory.
“Our intensity was good tonight. I challenged them tonight,” he said. “I challenged them. The first word I told them (Tuesday); I didn’t write anything on the board — I forgot my chalk; I have a chalkboard — was energy. There’s no fans, there’s no cheerleaders, there’s nothing. The bench has to lead the energy.”
He got it.
“When that happens, we’re a good team,” Salata said.
It was the 11th time in a row the Rams had beaten the Cougars, who last defeated RRHS in January 2017. A tenacious defense, with the Rams trapping the Cougar guards in the backcourt, often led to turnovers and Rio Rancho points.
This time, that 6-0 spurt was followed by an 11-2 run midway through the first half, with the Rams ahead 16-9 at the end of the first quarter and 27-19 at halftime.
The Cougars had only six players for the game, with 6-7 senior Brady Arrenius having his way in the paint in the first half, when he scored a dozen of his team-high 23 points.
“We did a very good job on Jeremiah (Ortiz),” Salata said. “Everything starts with him. Ortiz finished with 12 points, but only 5 by halftime. … Their big two had 35 of their team’s 43.”
Arrenius dropped in a pair of free throws midway in the third quarter, when the Cougars got as close as they would in the second half, then trailing the Rams 28-23.
If Salata again became concerned, his team went on an impressive 21-5 run to close out the third period and Cibola never got closer than 20 the rest of the way.
“The exciting thing is, we pressed the whole game and we gave up (only) 43,” Salata said.
Keagan Caton had what may have been his greatest quarter of the season following intermission, when he notched back-to-back dunks and a pair of 3-pointers, with 15 of his game-high 24 points in that eight-minute span.
Maddox Presser battled Arrenius at both ends, and finished with 13 points, going 5 of 7 at the foul line.
“We have to have Maddox for an inside game,” Salata said, happy with that senior’s performance. “I’m happy with the outcome on the road. Yeah, we lost at home, (so) we had to get one back on the road.
“Now we got Volcano Vista on Thursday, which nobody’s expecting us to win,” he added. “It’s a great opportunity for our team to play against one of the top two teams in the state.”
Volcano Vista 60, Rams 41 : Thursday’s meeting in the Hawks’ Ring of Fire saw the Rams running out of gas in the fourth quarter, according to Salata.
“We matched VVHS’s intensity and aggressiveness for three quarters,” he said, happy that “We were able to break (the Hawks’) press all game … (but) we could not score in the fourth quarter.”
Mikey Wood led the Rams with 12 points.
Ram dunks: If the Rams varsity’s 21-point win wasn’t enough to predict the winning streak against Cibola will continue, the RRHS junior varsity squad finished its earlier game with the running clock and a 63-28 rout of the younger Coogs.
… The Rams’ game with the Storm is their only game this week. Next week, the Rams are at Atrisco Heritage Academy on Wednesday and home to face Cibola on Friday; both games tip off at 7 p.m.