RIO RANCHO, N.M. — With two District 1-5A home court losses already in the book, the Cleveland High School boys basketball team could ill afford another setback.
And it didn’t happen last Tuesday evening, when the Storm Center was packed with a loud crowd, each side of the gym wanting its team to take “Game 1” of the City of Vision season rivalry.
The Storm never trailed and won easily, 90-68.
Opening the game with a 13-4 run, No. 3 Cleveland took control early, led by double-digits over the final 23 minutes and led by 20 for most of the second half.
“It’s a big win, first and foremost, because it’s our district rival,” said CHS senior Jalen Munn, who scored 14 of his team-high 22 points in the first half, bringing the Storm fans to their feet with slam dunks in each half. “But it’s another district win that we really needed.”
Three other Storm starters finished in double figures: Aamer Muhammad had 20 points, Tre Watson had 14 and Nakqi Smith added 11.
Unusually cold from beyond the arc, Rams senior David Patterson finished with a game-high 23 but was only two of 10 shooting 3-pointers. Fellow senior Blaine Gallegos was his usual self inside the paint, finishing with 20 points, but the fourth-ranked Rams (17-5, 3-1) amassed only 15 points from their other three starters.
“It took a lot out of me tonight because I’m sick,” CHS coach Sean Jimenez said. “When the boys come out and play from beginning to end like they (did tonight), that’s the type of team we have.”
Rams coach Wally Salata was also sick — in his own way.
“It’s only one game. … I’m not concerned,” he said. “I’m disappointed.”
By Salata’s count, the Storm attempted 27 layups, succeeding on 18 of them, signifying to him that his team wasn’t playing its best defense.
“Cleveland took advantage of us not playing our passing lanes,” he said. “It wasn’t just one guy. All aspects (of the game) were bad for us, (and) nothing went right for us.
“The stat for me? They usually shoot a lot of 3s against us,” he noted. CHS attempted (unofficially) only 11 shots from behind the arc, sinking four of them (by Munn, Smith, Josh Tarry and Nate Hasberry), while the Rams managed just a trio of 3s — the two by DP and one by Isaiah Chavez — out of 13 attempts.
Already planning for his team’s next game — a key 1-5A visit from Atrisco Heritage Academy on Tuesday at 7 — Salata said, “We’re beating up on each other. These next four games are for seeding at the state tournament.”
Volcano Vista 73, Cleveland 71: Muhammad missed a layup at the buzzer and the district-leading Hawks (17-3, 4-1)held on for a thrilling win Thursday evening in their Ring of Fire.
The Storm (19-4, 2-3) had trailed by 10 with 2:23 to go before turning it on, tying the game at 70 on a 3 by Muhammad.
After Muhammad made one of two free throws with 30.5 seconds left, VVHS’s Jake Deatherage canned a 3 from the corner for 73-71, setting the stage for Muhammad’s potential game-tying layup.
Watson led CHS with 23 points, Smith had 14 and Munn added 11 in the upsetting defeat, which left Jimenez with a rare loss for words.
Storm warnings: Cleveland improved, with its fourth win in a row over the Rams, to 18-13 all-time against RRHS.
… The Storm’s lone game this week is Thursday at 7 at Atrisco Heritage Academy (18-5, 3-2). The teams have split two previous meetings this season.
… The Rams play twice this week: After that game Tuesday with AHA, they visit Cibola (1-20, 0-5)on Thursday. Both games tip off at 7.
… In Tuesday’s sub-varsity games, the Rams’ freshmen beat the Storm 62-54 and the RRHS junior varsity team also won, 74-59. Coach Howard Knezevich’s Rams JV improved to 17-1 on the season after the victory.
How did the schools’ girls teams fare when they squared off against each other on Feb. 6?
Pick up the Feb. 10 issue of the Observer and find out!