Rio Rancho High School boys basketball coach Wally Salata was feeling pretty good the evening of Jan. 11 after his team beat visiting Belen 61-48, the Rams’ eighth win in their last nine games.
Yes, the victory was over a Class 4A school, but, yes, the game was played without his leading scorer, Keagan Caton, out due to COVID restrictions.
“COVID right now is kinda hurting us,” Salata said, “because, mentally we’re losing players and it’s the mentality of the next guy stepping up. I know Keagan wasn’t out there, but we told them in the locker room, someone’s got to take his 27 minutes and 15 points — and we won by 13.
“Don’t get me wrong; we won. I’ll take a win — we’re 10-5. We’re the fourth team in our district that has 10 wins — no three teams in any district have 10 wins,” he pointed out. “Anyone paying attention to MaxPreps, I mean, our strength of schedule is best in the state.
“This was our first game without Keagan. We get Mikey Wood back on Friday, so it’s gonna take him a while to get back into the swing of things. But COVID … is screwing up the whole state: Teams are sitting out players, coaches are getting it; (Belen’s) head coach wasn’t even here tonight because of COVID. What we were told, you play — you bring people and you play.”
The Rams had just four reserves as the game began, including Austin Ford, a 6-6 junior who’d missed the last handful of games because of a concussion. By game’s end, all nine players scored for the home team, including double-figure guys Andrew Sanchez, with 15 — he had four 3s — and sophomore Jeremiah Archuleta, who came off the bench to add 10, all in the first half.
“The other thing is, our goal every game is hold (our opponent) under 51; they scored 48.” (The Rams are 7-1 when they manage to do that.)
Sanchez sparked a 15-3 Rams run in the first quarter, which ended with the Rams ahead, 17-10. It was 33-28 at halftime and 47-36 at the end of three quarters, although the Eagles (10-5), seeing their five-game winning streak end, got within 9 early in the fourth quarter.
The Rams played better defense, as the Eagles committed 16 turnovers to just a dozen for RRHS, and rebounded better at both ends. Maddox Presser blocked a handful of Eagles’ shots from close range during the contest, turning in one of his best games of the season.
“It was an ugly game; we gave up way too many layups inside,” Salata added. “When the ball goes inside to a post, our guards have to come and show — we don’t show; we’re watching them go one-on-one against Maddox.
“(And) in the first half, we had four starters with two fouls; I have a philosophy that if you get two fouls, you sit the bench, and I had to do that. We had nine players.
“But we found a way to win the game,” he concluded. “I still think, man-to-man, we can’t just let people dribble around us.”
Rio Rancho 49, Del Norte 43: Four free throws late in the second quarter, capped by a field goal by Jayden Johnson, helped the Rams grab a 36-30 lead at halftime Jan. 8 in the APS Metro Championships’ fifth-place game at Valley High School.
The Rams built their lead in the second half, although the Knights made it a two-possession game later, and again Caton sank a pair of free throws for a six-point edge, and the game’s final margin.
Caton led the Rams with 15 points and Archuleta joined him in double figures with 12.
Rams 70, Highland 50: The Rams got to that fifth-place game after a convincing victory over Highland on Jan. 7.
Despite their slow start, trailing 22-15 after the game’s first eight minutes, the Rams closed in on the Hornets after winning the second stanza, 14-8, to cut the deficit to 30-29 at halftime.
Caton led the way with 25 points, Johnson had 13 and Andrew Sanchez chipped in with 10.
Rams 74, Roswell 43: The long trip to Roswell on Jan. 14 was worth it for the Rams, who won for the ninth time in 10 tries.
A pair of 22-point quarters in the first half helped the visitors open a 44-23 halftime lead, and – pleasing coach Salata – the Rams also won the third (17-12) and fourth (13-8) quarters, finishing with their most points in a game this season.
Caton, back on the court after missing the Jan. 11 win over Belen with illness, led the way with 25 points. Johnson added 13, Presser had 11 and Jamal Bynum joined them in double figures with 10 – the first time this season RRHS had four players in double figures.
RAM dunks: The Rams are home at Thursday (Jan. 20) to face Atrisco Heritage Academy at 7 p.m.