RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Cleveland High boys basketball team’s 2018-19 season ended just like the ’17-18 campaign had ended: with a loss to Atrisco Heritage Academy.
Only the latest loss had come in a state semifinal game instead of the championship game.
Once again, the Jaguars (21-7) had too much firepower. And that was Joziah Ramos.
Ramos, a junior guard the Storm (26-7) will have to contend with for one more season, scored his team’s first eight points, finishing with a game-high 28. Ramos drove for the game-tying layup in regulation, then calmly scored the game’s final two points on free throws.
The Storm had a 55-53 lead when a bad-pass turnover with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter gave the Jaguars the ball — Ramos then tied it, and Aamer Muhammad had an open look from the top of the key, but his shot bounced away and the game went into OT.
Muhammad led the Storm with 21 points and Jalen Munn joined him in double figures with 14.
It was the fifth meeting between the teams this season, with the Storm winning just once.
“Tough one to swallow,” coach Sean Jimenez said. “You have four seniors who have been with me for three years and done everything I’ve asked, and two (Muhammad and Munn) are going on to play college basketball. (It’s) just a very hard pill to swallow.
“There’s no words I can tell the boys in that locker room to make them feel better,” he said.
The Jaguars, who beat the Storm 53-49 in last year’s 6A championship game, advanced to the title tilt again, where they faced upstart Santa Fe High Saturday evening.
The Demons upset No. 1 Volcano Vista, 55-52, in Thursday’s other 5A semifinal.
The Storm had advanced into the semifinals after a convincing win Wednesday afternoon.
Cleveland 84, Oñate 52: “Defense was the difference,” Jimenez said after Wednesday afternoon’s quarterfinal win over the 15th-seeded Knights (19-12).
Who’s to argue? And using the team’s “patented” D-to-O (defense to offense) strategy, throw in a 20-2 run in the first half to go with a 21-4 run in the second half and there was no way the Knights, who surprised No. 2 and previously unbeaten Las Cruces in the first round, stood a chance.
The Storm trailed OHS 19-14 before the first big run, which carried CHS to a 34-21 lead. The second-half run turned a 56-43 lead into a 77-47 lead.
Josh Tarry nailed four 3-pointers out of only five attempts and tied Muhammad for team scoring honors with 18 apiece; Munn added 15 and Nate Hasberry provided a first-half spark off the bench and finished with 10.
The Storm shot 49 percent from the field and made 14 of 18 free throws.
Cleveland 77, La Cueva 59: The Storm never trailed while beating the Bears last Saturday for the eighth time in a row — and for the third time in four years in first-round games, all played at Cleveland.
Muhammad hit three of his six 3-pointers in the first half — he didn’t miss from behind the arc — as the Storm built a 10-point lead, 32-22, by halftime.
Although the No. 10 Bears (18-11) got as close as six in the third quarter, when Derek Aielts scored 13 points, the deficit was 15 heading into the fourth quarter, and the Storm were never threatened.
Muhammad finished with 22, Munn had 16 and Tre Watson added 13 for Cleveland. Aielts led the Bears with 26 points.
Storm warnings: Former Rio Rancho and Cleveland boys basketball coach Brian Smith led his Portola (Calif.) boys team to a 15-15 record this season, which ended with a second-round loss in the playoffs. This was the first season Smith had a varsity team; he began the Bulldogs program two years ago with freshmen only, then had a junior varsity team added last season.
… Although the Storm have been in existence for only 10 season, this season marks their seventh with 20 or more wins, topped by a 28-3 record in 2014-15.
… Jimenez says goodbye to four seniors: Muhammad, Munn, Smith and Tarry.