RIO RANCHO – Except for a two-minute stretch late in the second quarter, when host Rio Rancho closed the deficit to five points, the No. 4 Cleveland High boys’ basketball team dominated the Rams as the city’s teams met for the first time this season and ended the first half of the District 1-5A season.

The Storm17-5, 2-2) opened the second half on a 6-0 run and the Rams (12-10, 1-3) never got closer than eight in the third period, which ended with the Storm holding a convincing 66-42 lead.

The lead was 19 or more throughout the final period, which ended with the Storm students chanting “This is our house” and “We still own you” and taking home an 85-59 victory.

“In our district, there are two important quarters, the first and the third. We were outscored in the first quarter 28-16 and 31-12 in the third quarter. You can’t survive any game when you are outscored by 31 points in those two quarters,” RRHS coach Wally Salata explained.

CHS coach Zack Cole agreed with the importance of getting off to a great start.

“In rivalry games, it’s always about the energy and intensity, and that comes from the crowd as well,” he said, and there was a large, loud student section on hand for each team. “The players don’t have to be talked to too much to get your team ready for a rivalry game.”

It was the Storm’s eighth win over the Rams in the last 11 meetings; CHS now owns a record of 29-16 all-time vs. the Rams, whom they host in the Thunderdome in the regular-season finale on Feb. 22.

“Cleveland is a very good basketball team. Daniel (Steverson), Remy (Albrecht) and Noah (Padilla) were the three players we talked about leading up to the game.

“When those three players combine for 66 of the 85 points and a lot of those points were uncontested layups, we have a problem. We started the game in a zone and fell behind by 10 points. We do not have the personnel to match up man to man and it showed the rest of the game,” he said.

Steverson had 12 points in the first quarter and seven in the third; Albrech had eight in the first and eight more in the third; Padilla had eight in the first and seven in the third.

Steverson led the way with 29 points, Padilla finished with 19 and Albrecht added 18.

Jayden Johnson, matching up with Steverson in a showcase of the city’s two best players, led RRHS with 18. Chris Lucero had 14 and Caden Decker supplied 13. Two Rams starters, Josiah Marfil and Noah Montoya, combined for one point, and Montoya – the Rams’ big man in the paint – fouled out with 4:18 left in the contest.

“In our four district games, we are giving up 85 points per game,” Salata said. “We don’t have the firepower to score 86 points a game (97 is their max, which came in an overtime loss at Atrisco Heritage Academy), so we have to find a defense to slow down these high-powered offenses. In order for any defense to work, players have to understand their assignments whether it’s man or zone. Right now, we have too many lapses/mistakes on defense and the best teams in the state are taking advantage of our lapses/mistakes.”

The Rams have a few days to get ready for their next opponent, Atrisco Heritage Academy (17-5, 3-1 before a game at Cibola on Feb. 8), where they play Feb. 13.

“We just finished playing the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the state. We have to figure things out quickly because we get to play all three teams again in the next two weeks,” he said. “If we don’t learn from our lapses/mistakes from (the loss to Cleveland) and last Friday against Volcano Vista, we will continue to struggle.”

The Storm entertain Volcano Vista (21-1, 4-0) Thursday evening at 7 in the Thunderdome; it’s the third meeting between the two, with the No. 1 Hawks’ only loss this season coming at the hands of the Storm.

As of this minute, after Volcano Vista beat AHA 69-52 Tuesday evening, the 1-5A standings, from the top down, are Volcano Vista, AHA, Cleveland, Rio Rancho and Cibola.

Odds are, that’s how the final standings will look, heading into the district tournament later this month.