Seated, from left, Remy Albrecht, Daniel Steverson and coach Sean Jimenez, with the rest of the Storm behind them, field questions from the media after their quarterfinal loss to Sandia. (Herron photo)
ALBUQUERQUE – The third time came pretty close to being the charm Wednesday evening, with the seventh-seeded Cleveland High boys basketball holding an eight-point lead with two minutes left in their quarterfinal matchup with No. 2 Sandia.
The Storm had lost to the Matadors twice in the season, 77-57 in an APS Metro semifinal at Albuquerque High in early January and 66-59 six nights later on the Matadors’ floor.
Maybe, Storm fans were thinking and hoping, their favorite team was due for a win.
Nope; that three-possession advantage wasn’t enough: Andrew Hill suddenly found his touch from behind the arc, draining three 3-pointers in a 37-second stretch to take his team from a 54-46 deficit to a 56-55 deficit.
“We should have got out of that zone after he hit one, and we should’ve went to zone, so I’ll take blame for that,” CHS coach Sean Jimenez said later.
Thankfully for the Storm, he shot better from long range than from the foul line, where he made one of two with 1:66 left in regulation and neither team scored again, with a late shot by CHS’s Josia Ortiz deflected well off its mark.
The game had been a back-and-forth affair, with the Storm leading 13-10 after the opening period and the Matadors (25-5) holding a 27-23 lead at intermission.
A 3-pointer by Remy Albrecht with 1:47 left in the third quarter closed out the scoring, and Cleveland held a 41-38 edge heading into the fourth quarter.
The Storm never trailed through the final eight minutes, and even took a 58-56 lead on a bucket by Ortiz 25 seconds into the four-minute OT.
It was their final lead of the season.
A Daniel Steverson layup with 26.6 seconds to go tied the game at 62. With 0.6 showing on the clock, Sandia’s Dalen Moyer connected on a 17-footer and the Storm called a timeout, with 1.0 put on the game clock, and Cleveland was unable to connect on a desperation shot to win it.
Albrecht led CHS with 20 points, with three 3s, and Steverson added 18, also with three 3s. Ortiz had 8, Nic Trujillo – scoreless in the first half – had 7, Stratton Shufelt came off the bench for some punch inside the paint and had 6, and Isaiah Sandoval had 3.
Hill finished with 32 for the Matadors, with 23 of them after halftime.
Sandia out-rebounded the Storm 36-32, with Steverson and Noah Padilla grabbing 8 apiece for CHS.
Sandia outscored the Storm in the paint, 40-30, with 17 second-chance points to Cleveland’s 4.3.
What they said
Even after the Matadors had been 0 for 7 at halftime and 1 of 13 from 3-point range after three periods, Hill’s heroics, said SHS coach Danny Brown, “are what we’re capable of doing, and that’s the trust that I have in these dues, that they have in each other.
“We’ve been there before,” Brown said, calling his guys “the cardiac kids.
“It doesn’t surprise me, but it takes a little luck.”
“(Hill) got on fire, got a few 3s, and got to the free-throw line,” Jimenez said. “We turned it over a little bit, too, so it was kind of a combination of him getting on fire and us not taking care of the ball a little bit.”
Reminded of his team trailing No. 1 Volcano Vista by 22 points in the third quarter and rallying to stop the Hawks’ 47-game winning streak, and squandering an eight-point lead at state, Jimenez said, “That’s what I told these guys,” he said. “Only one team is going to be happy at the end of the day … That’s part of life.
“I told these guys in there, this is one of my favorite teams that I’ve coached,” he said. “Every single one of the guys came to battle every single day, and you know what? This is just the start of their life.
“If this is the worst thing that happens in their life, these guys are going to be very successful,” he continued. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, because we thought we should be playing (in the semis), but we didn’t finish the game, and when I say ‘we,’ it was all of us. There’s no one play I can pick out, just collective things: If we take care of the ball a little bit better, get a couple more rebounds, we might be playing (in the semis).
“Hats off to Sandia; they played their tails off the last two minutes.”
Jimenez also pointed out, with scorers like Steverson and Albrecht returning for the 2023-24 season, “We’re gonna build off this. We’ll be back next year, I promise.”
Despite the loss, it made for a better season than the 2021-22 campaign for Cleveland, which lost a first-round game at Los Lunas – a year after winning the blue trophy.
Dribbles: In the other quarterfinal games Wednesday, No. 1 Volcano Vista beat its 1-5A foe Atrisco Heritage Academy, 54-49; No. 5 Organ Mountain beat West Mesa, which got a game-high 15 points from former Storm player Elijah Brody; and No. 3 Los Lunas edged La Cueva, 46-45.