RIO RANCHO – One evening after the city’s varsity boys’ teams played to determine third and fourth place at the midpoint of the District 1-5A slate, the city’s girls’ teams squared off to determine second and third place.
It went to the visiting No. 10 Rio Rancho Rams (15-7, 3-1), 36-32, who held off a late charge by the Cleveland Storm (11-11, 2-2), who made it a one-possession game over the final three-plus minutes.
It was the Rams’ fifth win in their last six meetings with the Storm, who last scored 32 or fewer points in a 35-27 loss to the Rams, also in the Thunderdome, in the 1-5A tournament last February. RRHS also beat the Storm, 54-40, in the Dec. 2 championship game of the Bobby Rodriguez tournament in Santa Fe.
There were five lead changes, all in the opening quarter, which ended with the Rams leading 17-11.
Eighth grader Madi Martinez, who scored a school-record 41 points in the Rams’ previous game, came out on fire and had seven points in the game’s first 5:10; she did not score the rest of the way.
The Rams barely scored in the second period, as Jemma Estrada’s free throw with 3:23 before halftime turned out to be their only point. The Storm didn’t set any records, either, with just five points, reducing the Rams’ lead at intermission to 18-16.
Another single-digit in the third period cost Cleveland, outscored 13-7 over those eight minutes and giving the Rams an eight-point advantage, 31-23, heading into the final quarter.
The Storm’s 9-3 run to open the fourth period made things interesting again, as that cut the deficit to 33-32, after Savannah Madueno canned two free throws with 44.5 seconds left in regulation.
The Rams’ Lilly Martinez was fouled with fewer than 30 seconds left but missed both free throws. Estrada grabbed the rebound and was fouled and made both of her free throws for a 35-32 Rams’ edge.
CHS coach Susan Kubala got a timeout with 28.3 ticks left, and soon after, Kindyll Sandoval was fouled — and she missed both of her free throws, with Estrada again getting a key rebound.
With 11 seconds left, Larissa Martinez was fouled; she made her second free throw for what turned out to be the final point, and Madueno’s desperation 3 missed, although even if she made it, she would have had to have been fouled for any hopes of overtime.
Lilly Martinez scored a game-high 17 points and Madueno led her team with 16.
“We held on,” RRHS coach Lori Mabrey said, crediting Estrada, only a freshman, for playing a key role with some defensive boards.
“Jemma had the biggest rebound of her life,” Mabrey said. “Jemma’s only going to continue to get better and better.
“Our girls need to get her a little more actively involved in the offense, earlier, and hopefully they will understand that,” she added. “Jemmah is an incredible athlete, and I am so proud of her. … Jemma did all our blue-collar work today.
“We had some big moments down the stretch; we were able to make just enough free throws to hold them off, and I thought as young as we are, we kinda answered the call.” (The Rams started two eighth graders, a freshman and a sophomore to go with senior Makenna Lee, who didn’t score.)
“I thought both teams played very good defensively,” Kubala said. “It was a defensive battle; they were taking away some of their strengths, we were taking away some of their strengths.
“We just needed to clean up a few things, knock down a couple more free throws (The Rams were 8 of 12 at the line, the Storm were 17 of 23). They had that key rebound down there, but it was a hard-fought game,” she said.
Both teams were missing players, including guards Daysia Jack of RRHS and Aubrey Jaramillo of CHS, who’s been out since she hurt an ankle in the Jan. 16 loss to La Cueva.
“We’re missing four kids,” Kubala said. “This group has been very resilient.”
Dribbles: The 15 wins by the Rams are the most for them since the 2018-19 season, when they finished 18-12 after a state quarterfinal loss to Hobbs in The Pit.
… The Rams have two winnable games next week: They’re home Wednesday to meet Atrisco Heritage Academy and then at Cibola on Friday evening. Both games start at 7 p.m.
… The Storm play in Volcano Vista’s Ring of Fire at 7 p.m. Friday. CHS has one game next week: Friday at Atrisco Heritage Academy at 7 p.m.