It’s Albuquerque Public Schools’ Metro Championships basketball tournament, but for half of the event’s dozen years, the boys’ bracket has been all but owned by teams from the City of Vision.
Including No. 2 Cleveland High’s stomach-churning 48-47 victory over No. 1 Volcano Vista last Saturday afternoon at Albuquerque High, Rio Rancho teams have won five of the last six titles: the Storm in 2015 and ’16 under former coach Brian Smith; Rio Rancho in 2017; and the Storm, under Sean Jimenez in 2019 and again this year.
It’s basically for mid-season bragging rights; lots can change after the teams have completed their district seasons, district tournaments and are preparing for the state tournament in March.
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three tournaments won by the Storm this season: their own in mid-December, the Holiday Hoops tournament in Hobbs, played in late December and won for the second year in a row by CHS, and now the APS Metro Championships.
Storm 48, Hawks 47: After Evan Gonzales sank one of two free throws with 2:43 left in the game, the Storm had what might have appeared to many to be a comfortable 46-36 lead.
Earlier, there had been four lead changes, all in the second quarter. The Storm scored the game’s first nine points before a raucous crowd at Bulldog City, trailed 18-17 before a layup by Watson gave CHS the lead to keep, and what became a 9-4 Storm run to close out the first half.
“His speech in there (at halftime) was just, ‘Keep playing hard; finish the game; we’ve been here multiple times. Just go out and do what you do,'” Watson said Jimenez told his players at halftime. ”
But those feisty Hawks kept coming back, aided when Nathan Hasberry missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2:18 left, and hurt a bit when Volcano Vista’s Noah Cunningham missed two free throws43 seconds later, but Ian Chavez came up with the ball and his 3-pointer — his third of the game — made it a one-possession game, 46-43.
Tre Watson was fouled with 1:13 left and sank both free throws and then came up big by blocking Kaden Valdez’s drive a few seconds later, after a reverse layup by the Hawks’ Terrin Dickey.
Jimenez called a timeout with 24.6 ticks left, but when his team came back onto the floor, a bad pass from Hasberry led to Dion Battle getting fouled — and his two free throws with 21.4 seconds to go made it 48-47.
Jimenez called another timeout, and this time Aidan Moreno was fouled by the Hawks on the Storm’s inbounds pass. He missed the front end and the Hawks got the ball, called a timeout with 6.5 seconds left and tried to set the stage for a game-winner.
Battle, the Hawks’ top 3-point shooter, got the ball before time expired and fired what would have been a 3-pointer in the NBA — if it had gone in.
It didn’t, and the Storm had survived.
“We missed eight total free throws — we actually missed six, but two were front ends of one-and-ones — and we gave up two offensive rebounds that wound up in a four-point play and a two-point play, so that’s what made the game a little bit closer,” coach Sean Jimenez said. “At the end, they got the ball and I told the guys it’s gonna come down to one stop and one rebound: They shot a deep shot and Evan (Gonzales) got his hands up and got the rebound to Tre. … It was deep and it was contested — so if it goes in more power to them.”
Watson led the Storm with 20 points, while Moreno had 11 – he had three defensive rebounds before the Hawks scored in the game — and Gonzales added 10. Battle paced the Hawks with 12, and Dickey came up with 11.
“They’re a really good team; they compete well,” Watson said. “We’re gonna play them a lot this year. I knew if we stuck together as a team we’d be good to go.”
With 16 wins in as many starts through the APS championship game, the Storm extended their best start in school history. It’s a baker’s dozen shy of Rio Rancho High School’s 29-game winning streak back in 2006-07, which ended in the Rams’ first state basketball championship.
“We just want to stay humble, you know,” Watson said. “We don’t want to take anybody lightly. Anybody that steps on the floor with us is an opponent; we’ve just got to put our foot on their necks.”
The Storm are in Volcano Vista’s “Ring of Fire” in both teams’ District 1-5A opener on Wednesday at 7.
Eldorado beat Albuquerque High, 59-52, in the third-place game; La Cueva defeated Rio Rancho, 54-49, in the fifth-place game; and Hope Christian beat Manzano, 82-56, for seventh place.
La Cueva defeated West Mesa 68-58 for the girls’ title, while Volcano Vista, which was the No. 1 seed, beat Sandia 53-42 for third place.
Rio Rancho, which had rallied Friday evening to beat city foe Cleveland, fell to District 1-5A foe Cibola, 43-24, in the fifth-place game, while the Storm topped Albuquerque High, 57-45, in the seventh-place game.
Read about the Storm’s homecourt win last week over Manzano — and which player sank seven 3-pointers along the way in the Jan. 19 issue of the Observer!