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Prep basketball: Cleveland boys not the average 4th-place team

The average fourth-place team in a prep basketball district can usually expect one of two things: Either a very low seed for the state tournament, or no playoff invitation at all.

Then there are this season’s Cleveland Storm boys (19-5), perhaps the most anti fourth-place team ever.

Cleveland, frankly, has all the fortune of the golfer Greg Norman, a man whose career was defined largely by the agonizing ways he lost tournaments.

So it goes with the Storm. All of its losses are by five or fewer points. Four of the five were the result of a shot made by an opponent in the final five seconds of regulation. And two of those almost defy description, based on the degree of difficulty involved.

“Tough games,” Storm coach Sean Jimenez admitted. “But I don’t think it means we are mentally soft or mentally weak. They understand what it takes to close out games.”

Volcano Vista has burned Cleveland twice on late shots. Atrisco twice, too, and once because the Jaguars hit a shot from beyond half-court at the buzzer to force overtime.

Cleveland — the early-season No. 1 in Class 5A — had a lead in all five of those games.

But the four losses to the Jags and Hawks have relegated Cleveland to fourth-place status in District 1-5A, a league that may very well produce four of the top five seeds at the state tournament. (Eldorado is still a wild card in all of this.)

That includes Cleveland, which is headed for nothing higher than a No. 5 seed, and certainly no lower than a No. 6. Assuming there are no first-round upsets at state (and that’s a dangerous thing), the Storm will surely be paired up with one of its district rivals in the quarterfinals.

“They haven’t gotten down,” Jimenez said of his team, which closes the regular season today against Cibola and Thursday versus Rio Rancho. “We have to stay upbeat. At the end of the day, this district will help us prepare for state. I’d be more worried if I didn’t have any seniors who haven’t been through the battles.”

SUCCESSION: With St. Pius boys coach Damian Segura stepping away at the end of the season, the school stayed in house far for his replacement. In fact, Segura endorsed and spearheaded the selection of associate head coach Ryan Myers as the Sartans’ new coach starting in 2019-20.

“My freshman year of college, I went to Texas Tech. As soon as (Damian) heard I was transferring back (to UNM), he contacted me right away and he said, ‘I want you to be on my staff,'” said Myers, 28 and a 2009 St. Pius graduate. “To be sought out meant a lot to me.”

Segura, Myers said, has helped to groom him to tackle his future assignment.

“It’s incredible,” Myers said. “I always wanted to be a high school coach, and the fact that I get to do it here, where I went to school, and have so many great memories as a player, is going to be extremely special.”

ARMY ENLISTS VAROZ: West Mesa senior guard Esperanza Varoz has received an appointment to Army and plans to play Division I basketball at West Point.

“They had a great opportunity for me to go to medical school,” said Varoz, 18 and a four-year starter for the Mustangs, and 13 points shy of 1,000 for her career. “I’ve seen all the opportunities it can give me.”

Varoz had some knee trouble last season, which, she said, got her thinking that she might want to specialize as an orthopedist. She hasn’t yet made up her mind on that front.

“It’s definitely an exciting opportunity,” she said. “Just to play basketball anywhere would have been great, because I love this game so much. This is a huge privilege to represent the U.S. military.”

ON THE MENU: There are still a few metro-area boys and girls districts up for grabs as we begin the final week of the regular season.

Chief among them is the aforementioned District 1-5A boys. Tonight, co-leaders Volcano Vista (19-3, 5-1) and Rio Rancho (19-5, 5-1) meet on the West Side; the Rams won the first meeting, 58-56.

District 2-5A could be headed for a playoff game between Eldorado (17-5, 6-1) and La Cueva (13-9, 5-1), if both finish the final week without a slip. In congested 5-5A, co-leaders Manzano (13-9, 5-3) and Albuquerque High (8-14, 5-3) face each other Wednesday night at Manzano. Capital and Santa Fe are looming, just one game between them.

Los Lunas (District 5-4A) already has clinched the regular season, and Hope Christian (6-4A) will do the same if the Huskies beat either of the two teams — Valley(11-10, 5-3) tonight or Del Norte (12-10, 5-3) on Friday — tied for second place behind the Huskies.

In District 5-3A, league leader Sandia Prep (15-9, 8-0) visits second-place Cuba (15-7, 7-1) tonight with a chance to secure the top seed for next week’s district tournament.

n There is also clutter on the girls side. In 1-5A, the top two teams, Volcano Vista (18-4, 6-0) and Rio Rancho (15-9, 5-1) square off Wednesday in Rio Rancho. District 2-5A could still go a couple of ways, and there remains a very slim chance that four teams — Piedra Vista (21-3, 5-1), West Mesa (20-2, 4-2), Farmington (20-6, 4-3) and La Cueva (18-4, 3-3) — could all finish atop the standings with 5-3 records.

Sandia in 5-5A, Highland in 6-4A and Los Lunas in 5-4A all are secure as regular-season champs, wth Sandia Prep (5-3A) on the verge of clinching tonight at home against second-place Cuba.

THIS AND THAT: Still no definitive word on the health status of Eldorado senior forward Kameron Valencia, who suffered a right knee injury last Friday against La Cueva. Valencia will have an MRI this week.