After his team lost to Volcano Vista, 62-31, in an APS Metro encounter at Manzano High School on Jan. 5, Rio Rancho High School girls coach Scott Peterson said he hoped his Rams would play the Hawks four times, maybe even five times.

He gets his wish Saturday in the Hawks’ Ring of Fire, where the unbeaten Hawks (24-0) torched his Rams, 65-6, on Feb. 15, thanks to the Rams’ 40-27 victory at Cleveland Thursday evening. Tipoff time Saturday is 7:30 p.m. (The Volcano Vista boys play Atrisco Heritage Academy for the boys’ title; AHA beat the Rams 52-46 in the 1-5A semifinal Thursday evening.)

On Feb. 17, Cleveland secured second place in District 1-5A despite a 31-28 loss at Rio Rancho, claiming third place. After an early lead, 7-2, the Storm (16-11) saw the Rams (14-13) go on a 15-0 run and leave them in the dust.

Cleveland, expected to get a bid to state and maybe even a home game, was trailing 17-11 at halftime and things didn’t get any better in the second half, as the Rams beat them in the remaining quarters, 10-7 in the third and 13-9 in the fourth. The Storm, splitting what turned out to be four games with the Rams this season, never got closer than that six-point deficit at halftime.

For the second night in a row, the Rams kept feeding 6-1 junior post Julia Espinosa, and she finished with a game-high 12 points. Senior guard Alice Wilkinson had 10 for the Rams, with Brenna Wolfe leading CHS with 7 points.

“First of all, it was a team win,” Peterson said. “Our defense was really good tonight.

“I was really proud of our game plan, how we stuck to it.”

In facing the Hawks for the tourney title, the Rams – who also lost in their Jan. 28 meeting in the RAC, 63-22, will be facing a team that has won its last 37 games, and 53 of its last 54.

Despite their 14 wins to this point, Peterson said he wasn’t sure if the Rams had played themselves into a state tournament bid. Of course, with an upset of the high-flying Hawks, they’d be in for sure.

Alice Wilkinson drives past Cleveland’s Aubrey Jaramillo Thursday evening in the Thunderdome. (Herron photo)