RIO RANCHO — Hope Christian’s blazing hot start was impressive.
Rio Rancho’s finish was more timely.
The Rams overcame a 12-point deficit Thursday night to the Huskies. They didn’t lead the game until the fourth quarter, but Rio Rancho (6-5) eventually won going away, 69-56 in the semifinals of the Jalene Berger Allstate Holiday Hoops Classic.
The Rams, who have won five of their last six games, will face unbeaten Española Valley at 7 tonight in the final.
“The whole key for us was our bench,” Rio Rancho coach Wally Salata said. “The starters weren’t playing well the first three quarters, and the bench kept us in the game. Those guys went in and did their job tonight.”
Rio Rancho outscored Hope 28-13 over the final eight minutes.
Joshua Cowan’s bucket with 6:53 remaining put the Rams in front 46-45, their first lead of the night. He was one of those reserves Salata spoke of, and the second unit, which was sparked by freshman guard Kenny Noland and forward Blaine Gallegos, played heavy minutes.
Later, the Huskies went in front 51-48 after Preston Ulibarri’s 3-pointer. But the Rams scored the next eight — all off Hope turnovers — including a 3-pointer by David Patterson for a 56-51 lead midway through the quarter.
Hope (5-3) could scarcely miss in the first few minutes. The Huskies buried five 3s, including a pair from Johnnie Nitafan, in the first 5½ minutes, and raced out to a 20-8 lead.
But Hope would only hit one other 3 the rest of the game. The Huskies were hindered by turnovers and poor shooting throughout the final three quarters.
Bigger and more physical than the Huskies, Rio Rancho — led by post Keshawn Banks who overmatched Hope’s slimmer lineup in the paint — was 25 of 36 from the free-throw line.
• Española Valley junior guard Ryan Trujillo scored on a driving layup with 5 seconds remaining in the other semifinal on Thursday, as the Sundevils (11-0) remained undefeated with a back-and-forth, 57-56 victory over Oñate.
The Knights (10-3) missed a game-winning buzzer beater at the other end. The Sundevils are 3-0 in games decided by five or fewer points this season.
• Guard Anthony Chavez had 27 points for Valley in a 67-51 consolation bracket victory over Piedra Vista.
LOS LUNAS TOURNAMENT: At Valencia High, senior guard Markus Collins scored a game-best 23 points for No. 1-ranked Las Cruces as the Bulldawgs (12-0) hung on to beat No. 6 Albuquerque High 67-63 in the first round of the Los Lunas holiday event on Thursday afternoon.
The Bulldawgs squandered all of a 12-point lead to AHS (4-2) in the second half, but Las Cruces was rock solid from the free-throw line in the final moments.
Los Lunas (9-1), which co-hosts the tournament with Valencia, outlasted Gadsden 30-26; Zanen Zeller had eight of his team-leading 10 points in the second half as the Tigers rallied in the final two quarters against the Panthers who scored only one point in the fourth quarter.
Los Lunas, the second-ranked team in Class 5A, and Las Cruces will play in one semifinal today at 3 p.m.
• In the girls’ tournament, Eldorado and Los Lunas both posted first-round victories Thursday, and the Eagles and Tigers will square off at 4:30 this afternoon in the first semi.
Sophomore Dani Ross led Los Lunas (9-1), Class 5A’s top-ranked team, with 13 points in a 66-30 rout of Santa Fe. Eldorado downed Alamogordo 45-35, as Colexi Brazier and Breanne Edgar each scored 10 points. The Eagles (4-1) were coming off a 20-day layoff.
Valencia beat Gadsden 55-40 on Thursday night as Veronica Baeza led the Jaguars with 16 points. Valencia will face Bloomfield in the other semifinal at 7:30 tonight.
HOBBS HOLIDAY TOURNAMENT: Tyler Quintana poured in 24 points Thursday morning for Eldorado, as the fourth-ranked Eagles defeated No. 3 Cleveland 80-71 in the opening game of Hobbs’ venerable boys tournament.
Kameron Valencia added 21 points for Eldorado (5-1), which plays Hirschi, Texas, in today’s semifinals. After a 6-0 start, the Storm fell to 7-3.
STU CLARK INVITATIONAL: In Las Vegas, Nev., Bernalillo’s boys ran their record to 12-0, beating St. Pius 60-44 on the first day of the Stu Clark at N.M. Highlands. Solomon Fragua had 17 points to lead the Spartans, who are ranked No. 1 in Class 4A.
Bernalillo faces West Las Vegas in one semifinal at 6 p.m. today. The other semi, at 7:30 p.m., features Del Norte — which beat Sandia Prep 66-61 in overtime Thursday — and Robertson.
LAS CRUCES HOLIDAY HOOPLA: In Las Cruces, Kamirah Decker had 20 points as Rio Rancho’s girls ripped Oñate 67-36 in the first round Thursday. The Rams will play Mayfield in a semifinal today; the Trojans edged La Cueva 45-42.
CLOVIS TOURNAMENT: Jeremy Lopez scored 19 points to pace Rio Grande’s boys to a 59-56 win Thursday over Randall, Texas.