Socorro’s Eric Reza (10) finds himself surrounded by Rams, from left, Jamal Bynum, Sean Parisian, Chris Lucero and Kevin Archuleta in second-half action Wednesday evening during the Rams’ 75-57 victory. (Herron photo)
As is always planned when you host a basketball tournament, the idea is to get to the championship game.
The Rio Rancho High School boys’ basketball team took a first step in that direction with a 75-57 victory over Socorro High, from El Paso, in a first-round game of the annual Jalene Berger Holiday Hoops Classic Wednesday evening in the RAC.
For a little while, it looked like the Rams were in for a real battle.
Their lead was 19-18 at the end of the first quarter, and they were down, 21-20, when they went on a 9-0 run and never trailed again.
By halftime, their lead was 36-27, and the Rams stayed hot midway into the third period, leading by 21 points, 51-30.
Then the tide turned – briefly.
When the Bulldogs scored the final 10 points of the third period, the Rams’ lead was just nine (55-46).
No problem: Rio Rancho opened the final quarter on a 16-1 run, taking a 24-point lead, sparked by six points from senior Mikey Wood, and coasted to the win.
Jayden Johnson led the Rams with 17 points, while Wood had 14 and Jerry Archuleta added 10.
Coach Wally Salata was asked how his team had seen a 20-point lead dwindle to nine in the second half.
“I don’t know the exact answer. We were off for a week, and again, with Christmas and whatnot,” Salata began. “We let them get back into the game. Our fourth-quarter pressure defense kinda kicked in and forced some turnovers.
“Then we scored (in bunches). Jayden got some things going inside – if you don’t stop him early, he’s hard to stop. And Mikey’s been doing a great job on the board for us, getting a lot of offensive rebounds. That’s what we are.”
It isn’t shooting from long-range, he knows, as the Rams attempted only nine shots from behind the arc, with two “makes” Archuleta.
“You can’t relax; you can’t come out and go through the motions,” Salata said. “We’re excited to move into the semifinals.”
The Rams (6-4) tip off this evening (Dec. 29) at 7 against Wednesday’s other semifinal winner, Española Valley (2-10), which rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half to defeat Sandia Prep, 47-45.
In the other first-round games Wednesday, St. Pius X edged Hope Christian, 67-66 in overtime; and Rio Grande held on for a 55-52 victory over Santa Fe. That semifinal tips off at 5 today in the RAC.