Cleveland beat city foe Rio Rancho for the ninth time in a row, including all four meetings this season, but more importantly, this first-round victory March 7 in the Thunderdome sent the Storm into the state quarterfinals for the seventh year in a row.
ALBUQUERQUE — No fans or even media members were there to see it, but the Cleveland High boys basketball season ended Thursday evening in Dreamstyle Arena—The Pit in a 74-64 loss to No. 2 Capital High.
It was the third year in a row the Storm’s season ended with a loss to a team known as the Jaguars: In 2018 and ’19, it was to eventual champ Atrisco Heritage Academy, which went on to win back-to-back Class 5A titles; in 2020, “Year of COVID-19,” it was the Capital Jaguars, a team the Storm (26-5) had beaten by 11 points, 75-65, on Jan. 4 in Santa Fe.
Cleveland was unable to overcome Capital’s 22-10 barrage in the second stanza.
“We knew we had a special team,” Capital coach Ben Gomez told the Albuquerque Journal. “Even though you have some good pieces, you don’t know if they can come together at the right time at the right place.”
Chano Herrera’s 3-pointer capped a 7-0 Capital run in the second quarter as the Jaguars took a 26-20 lead.
They extended it to 37-26 by halftime. Cleveland closed to 60-57 with just under five minutes remaining. But the Storm never had a chance to tie the game.
Tre Watson’s 19 points were team-best for Cleveland; Nathan Hasberry supplied 13 points, and Aidan Moreno capped his outstanding senior season with a double-double, 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Four Jaguar starters were in double figures, led by T.J. Sanchez’s 22 points. Seth Arroyos had 18.
The victory put the Jaguars into Saturday evening’s championship game vs. No.1 Las Cruces (28-3), which beat Volcano Vista, 47-31.
Storm 66, Santa Fe 45: On Wednesday night in The Pit, the Storm met No. 3 Santa Fe for the second time this season.
The sixth-seeded Storm beat the Demons by 12 the first time they met, on Jan. 2 in the Thunderdome.
Watson and Hasberry combined for 38 points in that win, the Storm’s 11th in a row.
In the team’s quarterfinal meeting, it was more of the same: those juniors combined for 35 points, while Moreno grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds in the victory.
The Storm had three 10-0 runs during the game, while the Demons (23-6) managed only two 5-0 runs, one of which getting the game underway.
“I told (my team), whenever they go on a run, we’ve got to stop it,” Jimenez said. “That’s how we went on our runs; we were getting stops and turnovers.”
Cleveland bounced back after an early 9-5 deficit for its first 10-0 run, taking the lead and not relinquishing it the rest of the way.
The second 10-0 run came midway through the contest, taking the Storm from a 22-17 lead to a 32-17 advantage, as CHS led by double-digits throughout the second half.
The final 10-0 run catapulted Cleveland from a 43-33 advantage to a 53-33 cushion and the Demons never got closer than 17 after that, with their second 5-0 run coming on free throws. Some interesting stats from the game: The Storm scored 40 of its points in the paint, had 14 fast-break points and out-rebounded the Demons 35-24.
Understandably, Jimenez said his team was playing its best basketball of the season — despite its 17-0 run to start the campaign.
Its advancement into the final four for the sixth year in a row was helped when future Lobo J.B. White got into early foul trouble and sat the final 10 minutes of the first half.
“That’s a huge factor; he’s a Division 1 basketball player and when you take a player that good (out of the game), it will impact the game,” he said. “But regardless, I think these guys were ready to battle regardless of who was on the floor.
“I thought the first half, Nate did a great job hitting 3s, but his teammates got him the ball,” he added. “He played his tail off the first half.”
“We knew we had to come out, keep pushing it, keep playing hard as a team,” Hasberry said. “It’s win or go home.
“We had to come out and play as a team ,play with each other, play within our system, and just do what our coach tells us.”
Watson said the Storm were prepared for the Demons, thanks to recent practices.
“In practice, we function on defense, ; we’ve done a lot of closing-out stuff because we knew we’d be playing a lot of shooting teams.”
The Storm never trailed in the contest, although the 11th-seeded Rams (14-14) pulled with four on several occasions in the high-scoring final quarter, a 27-22 Storm advantage.
After Junior Hodnett, who led the Rams with 16 points, scored on an underhand layup to cut the Cleveland lead to 50-46 with 4:45 to go, the Storm departed on a 12-2 run to put the game out of reach.
Hasberry, who plays on the same AAU team as Hodnett, and Watson each scored four points during that decisive run. Hasberry finished with a game-high 22 points.
What helped the Storm’s cause was the Rams missing their first 10 3-point attempts before hitting three in a row early in the final quarter, which drew them to 8-44.
“Coach was on me really good this week, so I knew I had to come out here and play hard,” Hasberry said. “We had a great week of practice.”
“It’s one of those games, when you’re playing your rival, that it’s going to be a tough game — and we know that,” Jimenez said. “We knew it was going to come down to the fourth quarter, because they’re going to be ready. … Hats off to them — they came and fought, and our boys just fought and made a couple more plays at the end of the game.”
Watson had 12 and Moreno had 11, including 7 in the fourth period, for the Storm. Vance Rudolph had 13 and Isaiah Chavez added 10, before fouling out with 2:27 to go, for the Rams.
Storm warnings: In other first-round games played March 7, No. 1 Las Cruces beat No. 16 Gadsden, 86-62; No. 2 Capital defeated No. 15 Centennial, 73-36; No. 3 Santa Fe beat No. 14 Carlsbad, 59-45; No. 4 Oñate defeated No. 13 Roswell, 54-49; No. 5 Atrisco Heritage Academy lost to No.12 Volcano Vista, 53-51 in overtime; No. 7 Hobbs was upset, 92-88 in overtime, by No. 10 Eldorado; and No. 8 Clovis beat No. 9 La Cueva, 71-60.
… Capital moved into the semis after beating Eldorado, 60-55; also advancing into the final four were Volcano Vista, which defeated Oñate, 59-50, and Las Cruces, a 51-46 winner over Clovis.
… The Storm won 11 home games for the fourth year in a row, making them 44-7 there in Jimenez’s four seasons. Early into next season, Jimenez’s fifth, he’ll notch his 100th win as Cleveland’s head coach — through the loss to Capital, his record with the Storm is 96-31. Brian Smith, who was 82-36 at RRHS, compiled a record of 120-86 in his seven seasons (2009-15) at Cleveland.
… The Storm will say goodbye to seniors Dorian Lewis, Lucas Loe, Darius de la O and Moreno before next season starts, but with Watson and Hasberry returning— a great 1-2 punch inside the paint — and a slew of current junior guards (Trey Ortega, Jeff Davison, Evan Gonzales and Lucas Lovato) returning, not to mention two talented sophomores (Antonio Avila and Diego Sharp), Cleveland will again be a force to reckon with in Class 5A basketball.