The Rio Rancho Rams again generated momentum from key baseline stops, pulling ahead to a 59-39 win over Cibola Friday at the RAC to stay within striking distance of second place in the District 1-5A basketball standings.

“That’s how we’ve been playing all year; we play good defense,” Rams coach Wally Salata said. “Cibola doesn’t have depth. They have eight guys, a couple of them fouled out. Their two best players, (Brady) Arrenius and (Jeremiah) Ortiz have the play the whole game, so you’ve got to have other people beat you. I just thought we forced many turnovers in that third quarter. ”

After taking down Atrisco Heritage Academy earlier in the week, Salata said RRHS needed to string together consecutive district wins for that extra confidence entering the Rams’ critical district showdown hosting unbeaten Volcano Vista.

Rio Rancho’s Mikey Wood looks to get a defensive stop against Cibola’s Austin Barrera during District 1-5A play on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, at RRHS. (Matt Hollinshead/Observer)

Rio Rancho (14-8, 3-3) is now just half a game behind Atrisco for second place in district.

Despite a somewhat sluggish first quarter, trailing 13-12 afterward, Rio Rancho kept applying double-team baseline traps. That in turn resulted in some extra transition scoring chances.

“That’s where they all came from, really. Just forcing a bad shot or turnovers, that leads to easy buckets on the other end,” Rams shooting guard Jayden Johnson said.

As the second half progressed, the Rams kept forcing deflections and turnovers locking down the baselines.

Salata said every time Ortiz got the ball in the backcourt, RRHS sent a defender to get the ball out of Ortiz’ hands. He also said Rio Rancho was able to limit Arrenius’ post touches.

As a result, Salata said other Cibola players who may not be getting as many touches had to try and help the cause.

“When you’re not used to touching the basketball, it puts a lot of pressure on them,” Salata said. “When we don’t put pressure, teams are able to look over the top, which (Cibola) did in the first quarter. But once we had them dribbling the ball, then it’s very difficult to see up the court. That was the difference that you saw between the first and the third quarter.”

RRHS also got some stops after dropping back toward the rim to limit Cibola’s looks off penetration.

“It was really great, man. Getting (Cibola) to move the ball, getting the ball out of their best players’ hands really helped,” said Johnson, who drew two key charges of his own in the third quarter. “We’re going to need to have that (defensive effort) every game to have a chance at winning.”

After settling for some pull-up jumpers early on, and with the Cougars starting to accumulate fouls, the Rams fought their way to the paint for easy runners and kept knocking down timely 3s.

Rio Rancho’s Keagan Caton and Andrew Sanchez tallied 11 and nine points, respectively. Jamal Bynum and Johnson scored eight and seven points, respectively.

Arrenius scored 23 points for Cibola, while Ortiz was held to just seven points.