RIO RANCHO — The Rio Rancho Rams were probably almost as happy about a win by Santa Fe High as the Demons were themselves Wednesday night.
Those two boys basketball teams will meet Thursday night for the championship of the Jalene Berger Allstate Holiday Hoops Classic at Rio Rancho. The Rams (5-4) won a tight matchup against Española Valley, and Santa Fe (11-1) led virtually the entire way against Hope Christian in Wednesday’s semifinals.
And now it puts them opposite each other at 7 p.m. Thursday; the Demons rallied from double digits down in the second half to beat the Rams 44-40 in Santa Fe on Dec. 14.
“We need our revenge,” Rams forward Keagan Caton said.
RIO RANCHO 62, ESPAÑOLA VALLEY 57: In the first semifinal, the Sundevils (11-3) set the Rio Rancho gym ablaze in the first quarter, making all seven of their 3-point attempts, including four from senior Mario Rodriguez.
The first half was wildly entertaining, with 13 lead changes and a handful of ties and ended with Española Valley leading 40-37.
“I challenged our guards at halftime,” Rams coach Wally Salata said. “I told them, ‘We’re better than that.’ I just thought if we could contain the perimeter we would have a chance, and we did.”
The second half didn’t quite deliver the same offensive fireworks, although the game remained tight until midway through the fourth quarter. The 14th lead change came at the end of the third quarter, on a 3 from Rio Rancho’s Jerry Archuleta for a 48-46 lead.
At 53-all with under four minutes left, Addonez Garay’s 3-pointer from in front of his bench put the Rams in front 56-53, and it ignited a 9-1 run that essentially ended the Sundevils’ chances.
“That shot got us the momentum to get us the win there,” said Garay, who scored 5 points.
Caton led the Rams with 22 points.
SANTA FE 61, HOPE CHRISTIAN 46: The Demons led for all but the first two minutes, and they led by double digits virtually the entire final three quarters as they beat the Huskies (4-4).
Senior guard Diego Ortiz had 12 of his team-high 20 points in the first quarter for Santa Fe, which used a 12-0 run in the first half to turn a narrow 12-10 lead into a 24-10 advantage.
“I was feeling awesome, I was feeling ready,” said Ortiz.
And the Demons were not threatened once by Hope Christian after that run, as Santa Fe led by at least nine points the rest of the way.
Ortiz and P.J. Lovato combined for nine of the 12 points in that run, including a ferocious two-handed dunk on a fast break for Lovato.
“We didn’t shoot the ball extremely well tonight, but … we always try to hang our hat on our defense, and we feel like it will always give us a chance to be in a game,” Demons coach Zack Cole said. Santa Fe has held its opponents under 50 points in nine of its 12 games.
Of Rio Rancho, Cole said: “We have to get off to a fast start, we have to match their energy and we have to make shots when we need to.”
Added Ortiz: “We’re gonna have a tag on us. They’re gonna come at us hard and we’re gonna have to be ready.”
The Demons on Thursday night will be looking to win their third tournament title of the season, following first-place finishes at the Capital City in Santa Fe on Dec. 4 (where Santa Fe beat Española Valley) and the Hub City event in Belen on Dec. 11, where the Demons downed Valley in overtime.
HOBBS HOLIDAY CLASSIC: The host Eagles (12-1) beat Cleveland (8-3) 77-53 in the championship game on Wednesday night at Ralph Tasker Arena.
There were seven early lead changes before Hobbs began to take over, and a 12-2 run staked the Eagles to a lead they never surrendered.
STU CLARK INVITATIONAL: In Las Vegas, N.M., Belen’s boys downed Taos 57-51 in the title game at the annual Stu Clark event at New Mexico Highlands. Daniel Corrales led the Eagles (9-4) with 25 points.