Cleveland senior Nic Trujillo (1), right, defends against Rams junior Jayden Johnson in second-half action Thursday evening in the RAC. Coincidentally, each player scored 11 points in the contest. (Herron photo)


Once upon the 2022-23 season, the Cleveland High School boys’ basketball team rallied from a 22-point deficit in the second half and won the game, not only beating the defending state champion Volcano Vista Hawks but also putting an end to their 47-game winning streak.

On the evening of Feb. 16 at Rio Rancho High School, the Storm (19-7, 6-2) found themselves in a 21-point hole in the second half.

Déjà vu?
Nope; the host Rams (17-9, 4-4) held on for an exciting 63-59 victory.

The outcome left the Storm in second place in District 1-5A and clinched third place for the Rams, happily celebrating Senior Night after the victory, combined with Volcano Vista’s win that night over Atrisco Heritage Academy, which had the edge over the Rams for third place with a win.

A 17-1 run in the second quarter gave the Rams a 34-17 lead at halftime, and the Storm fell behind, 42-21, just before the midway point of the third period.

Cleveland wouldn’t give up, cutting that double-digit to nine, 51-42, on a reverse layup by Daniel Steverson with about five minutes left in regulation.

In the final minute, a bucket and an “and one” by Steverson made it 59-54 and the Storm were alive.

After Rams senior Jayden Johnson missed his second free throw with 19.4 seconds to go, Josiah Ortiz nailed a 3-pointer and the Storm were really in business, now trailing 61-59.

But with the Rams then playing keep-away and the Storm needing to get the clock stopped and get the ball back, senior Mikey Wood was fouled with 9.2 ticks to go.

Wood made both free throws to make it a two-possession game and that was it: Cleveland needed someone to sink a 3 and get fouled in the process, and that wasn’t about to happen for a team coached by Wally Salata.

“You can’t get behind 17 at the half, you can’t do that,” CHS coach Sean Jimenez said. “When you do that, then you’re battling the whole way. Our guys kept fighting, so I’m proud of that. Now we’ve got to move on to the district tournament.”

Turnovers plagued the Storm, with a dozen turnovers in the first half and 11 more in the second half, while the Rams had only 10 for the game. The Storm’s 8-0 run early in the game gave them their only lead, with the game knotted at 8 when the first period ended and the Rams took over shortly after the second stanza began.

Freshman Remy Albrecht, often capable of double-digit scoring and sinking 3s, was in foul trouble early and finished with a mere 2 points after fouling out with 5:28 left in the game. And the Storm were without a big body in the paint, Stratton Shufelt, who’d been suspended for the game and was in street clothes.

Daniel Steverson led the Storm with 25 points, 13 of those coming in the fourth quarter as he tried his best to will his team to the win.

Senior Nic Trujillo joined him in double figures with 11.

Senior Maddox Presser was a big reason for the Rams’ win, as their big man had 15 points, basically owning the paint. Wood had 16, and Johnson had 11, but was only 2 of 9 at the foul line.

“It was big game – all of our fans came out,” Presser said. “
We struggle the third quarter, and teams know that and come out and hit us hard in the third quarter, and so we talked about (at halftime) what we can do to limit that in the third quarter and we need to play our best basketball then.”

The Storm took that quarter, 17-14, but still trailed by14 heading into the final quarter.

Salata was asked if it was his team’s best of the season.

“For about the first three quarters,” he said. “In the fourth quarter, if we would’ve made some free throws, the missed dunk (b Johnson), the technical foul – that could’ve cost us.

“But with all that aside, we won and that was our goal tonight,” he said. “The other thing is, I look long-term. We finished third last year in district and we got a 7 seed 9for state). I haven’t looked at any of the states or anything like that, but I think we’re deserving of a home game in the first round.”

The Class 5A bracket will be released Feb. 26.

Volcano Vista 39, Rio Rancho 36: Only one team has beaten the Hawks all season, and that was in the game mentioned above and in the Thunderdome.

The Hawks improved to 11-0 after their second-half surge beat the visiting Rams the evening of Feb. 14 In their Ring of Fire gymnasium this season. VVHS had a noisy student section and a top-notch pep band, basically two ingredients the Rams have lacked all season.

Hawks coach Greg Brown started five of his six seniors to commemorate Senior Night, and the Rams took advantage early, scoring the game’s first six points, leading 13-6 after the first period ended and 19-17 at halftime.

That two-point lead at intermission is deceiving: The lead had been 19-10, and the Hawks (23-1, 6-1) went on a 9-0 run and caught the Rams at 19 on a putback by 6-9 senior Sean Alter 30 seconds into the second half.

With 4:50 left in the third period, Johnson’s free throw gave his team what would be its final lead of the game, 22-21.

From then on, the Hawks led or were tied, although the Rams (16-9, 3-4 in 1-5A) stayed within striking distance, and it was a one-possession game after a Johnson bucket “and one” made it 36-33 after three quarters.

Even after Hudson Brown sank two free throws with 14.9 seconds to go for a five-point lead, RRHS’s Mikey Wood notched a 3-pointer for 38-36.

Brown was back at the line with 5.7 ticks left and made his first free throw, but missed the second.

Johnson got the rebound and the Rams quickly got the ball to the other end of the court, but Wood had the ball taken away by Anthony Gonzales a moment before the buzzer.

The Hawks were a model of consistency, scoring 11 points in each of the final three quarters, while the Rams’ paltry six-point second quarter was followed by a dismal four-point third period.

Johnson led the Rams with 15 points, giving him 20 games this season with double-figure scoring, although he was just 3 of 7 at the foul line.

The game was won at the line, as the Hawks – led by Kenyon Aguino’s 18 points – were 14 of 19 there, compared to the Rams’ 3 of 10. Aguino was 9 of 11 at the foul line and 1 of 4 from behind the arc.

Wally Salata said, “I can’t worry about that anymore. It’s 25 games in – if we can’t make free throws, we can’t make free throws.

“We’ve gotta make shots. I thought we had a lot of good shots throughout the whole game; the intermediate shots, we didn’t make them,” he said. “We could’ve folded when we were down six; I think it was 34-28 (It was, with 3:56 left to play.). The guys battled. The guys battled their bigs (Alter and Aguino).

“Again: Road game; home team won. Aguino’s a beast.”

And, worse for the District 1-5A teams, he’s only a sophomore.

“I’m happy for our kids. The No. 1 team in the state, and I thought we battled,” Salata added. “The thing is, in two days we’ve got Cleveland and you know how that’s gonna be – there’s a lot on the line that night.”

Dribbles: The Hawks have won their last eight meetings with the Rams, and haven’t lost to Rio Rancho in the Ring of Fire since Feb. 9, 2017. The last Rams victory over VVHS was an 80-74 overtime victory on Feb. 19, 2020, in the RAC.

… In the sub-varsity games in the RAC Thursday:

  • Jordan McNeely had 20 points and Jacob Jones added 16 in the Rams C-team’s 73-57 victory. Anthony Del Angel led CHS with 20.
  • Kayden Decker had 15 points, McNeely repeated with 10 points and Preston Shetter added 10 as the RRHS junior varsity notched a 67-65 overtime win. Tutus Sutton had a game-high 23 for the Storm, who got 10 from Tyrell Lopez. The contest featured a father-son coaching duel: Wallace Williams leading the Storm, his son Christopher guiding the Rams.


Here’s the format for the boys’ district tournament next week:

Tuesday: Cibola at Atrisco Heritage Academy, 7 p.m.

Wednesday: Tuesday’s winner at Rio Rancho, 7 p.m.

Thursday: Wednesday’s winner at Cleveland, 7 p.m.

Saturday: Thursday’s winner at Volcano Vista, 7 p.m.)