Storm basketball teams’ title hopes sizzled in the Ring of Fire

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Cleveland High girls basketball team has a state tournament first-round game this evening in Farmington against the Scorpios.

The Cleveland High boys basketball team plays host to La Cueva Saturday at 5:30 in a first-round matchup.

Here’s what happened last Saturday …

Less than 24 hours after pulling off road victories at Rio Rancho High School, the Cleveland High boys and girls basketball teams lost District 1-5A tournament championship games in Volcano Vista’s “Ring of Fire” gymnasium on March 2.

The CHS boys (24-6) were meeting the Hawks (21-4) for the fourth time this season and the third time in the Ring of Fire, where they’d beaten VVHS 71-70 in the APS Metro Championships game on Jan. 12, and then lost there, 73-71, in a 1-5A regular-season affair.

Volcano Vista 64, Storm 58 (OT): Playing their fourth game in five nights, as they’d done in the Metro tournament, Cleveland again looked like the No. 1 team it had been for the first half of the season.

That lasted for about 12 minutes, with the Storm (24-6) leading 11-8 at the end of the first period and 18-10 when the Hawks (21-4) took a timeout with 4:57 to go before halftime.

The Hawks then went on a 12-2 run to close out the first half.

The Storm took a 29-28 lead in the third period after an under-handed layup and a 3-pointer by Josh Tarry, plus a 16-foot jumper by Jalen Munn. The teams traded points, with fourth-quarter ties at 40 and then 44, although a 9-0 run by the Storm put the guests ahead, 49-44 with 1:15 to play in regulation.

But as Cleveland has seen all season, no lead is safe — ahead 49-46, Munn twice went to the foul line to shoot a pair of foul shots and came up empty, costing the Storm what could have been four points — and their last lead, 51-48, was negated when Ben Manzano scored and was fouled with 6.7 seconds showing on the clock.

He made the free throw, and an off-balance shot by Muhammad and an errant tip by Tre Watson send the teams into a four-minute overtime session.

Back-to-back layups by Muhammad gave the Storm their final lead of the game, 58-57, as the Hawks scored the game’s final seven points, even leaving two extra points on the floor when they missed a pair of free throws with 12.2 ticks to go.

Tarry missed his team’s final shot of the game, a 3-pointer, and Jake Deatherage, fouled by Nakqi Smith, sank a pair of free throws with 2.1 seconds.

Muhammad led the Storm with 17 points, Munn had 16 and Tarry added 14.

“Our boys played hard and I am proud of them,” CHS coach Sean Jimenez said, expecting a seed in the range of 5-7 for the state tournament. “We didn’t make some plays down the stretch — no excuses.”

Storm girls suffer same fate

The CHS girls (19-10) snapped a five-game skid against the Rams but had a much-longer drought — 21 games — since they’d beaten the Hawks, which was back in the 2010-11 season.

Volcano Vista 35, Storm 28: Freshman phenom Jaelyn Bates, later named the district’s Player of the Year, scored the first seven points of each half and the Hawks (21-5) made it 22 wins in a row over the Storm in the game following the boys’ encounter Saturday evening.

It wasn’t a runaway win, by any means: The teams were tied at 15 when halftime arrived, but the Storm never led or tied the Hawks after Bates’s layup 14 seconds into the second half.

After only six turnovers in the first half, Cleveland turned the ball over 11 times in the second half, when offensive rebounds were scarce.

Bates finished with 18, while Desiree Forster led the Storm with 14, which included a 6-of-11 outing at the foul line.

Storm warnings: Cleveland placed Tarry, Muhammad, Watson and Munn on the All-District team; Rio Rancho’s Blaine Gallegos, David Patterson and Isaiah Chavez were also on the postseason squad. The Storm’s Smith and the Rams’ Owen Olney were honorable-mention selections in 1-5A.

… Forster, Kaylee Caldwell, Yaritzha Moss and Alexa Madueno made the All-District first team for CHS; Laura Gutierrez, Julie Chavez and Kelsie Hawkins were first-teamers for the Rams; Hannah Dietz and Abree Aldaz were honorable-mention picks. Forster was the Defensive Player of the Year.

Cleveland guard Nakqi Smith looks for a teammate to pass to during the Storm’s District 1-5A tournament victory in the RAC on March 1. RRHS coach Wally Salata instructs his players to defend against a pass.