Host Rio Rancho looked for a few minutes to be poised to pull off an upset Saturday evening in the Rams Athletic Center and beat Hope Christian and win the Jalene Berger Allstate Holiday Hoop Classic.
The enthusiastic Rams fans saw their boys erase what had been a 17-point Huskies’ lead in the first half and come out smoking in the third period.
After some top-notch shooting Friday, the Rams’ shots seemingly rang out of the hoop Saturday. Even scoring leader Brady Patterson, the focus of Rams (4-6) opponents, struggled at the foul line, making five of his nine shots in the decisive fourth quarter.
Still, though, the junior finished with a game-high 25 points.
In the opening quarter, coach Wally Salata said, “I thought we were a little tight, tentative. Once they settled down, things got better for us.”
The Huskies opened the game on an 11-4 run and held a 19-9 lead when the first period ended.
Hope extended its run to 10-0 to gain a 27-10 lead early in the second quarter, before the Rams turned the tables and outscored the Huskies 15-5 the rest of the first half for a respectable 32-27 deficit at intermission.
Slowly but surely, the Rams crept into a tie for the first time since it had been 4-4 when Nick Ortega sank the first of two free throws with 1:25 remaining in the third period to knot it at 41. Ortega canned his second free throw and the Rams had the lead.
A 3 by Patterson with 30 seconds left made it 47-44, and a free throw by Zach Garretson with 1.6 seconds left in the period gave the Rams a 48-44 lead heading into the fourth period.
But what had been a Rams’ 23-12 scoring advantage in the third period was reversed in the fourth quarter, a 31-13 Huskies’ advantage — and 14-point Hope triumph, 75-61.
Rio Rancho’s downfall was its inability to connect from the field — the Rams made only one field goal in the game’s final eight minutes. And although RRHS fared better at the foul line, going 11 of 17 compared to Hope’s 13 of 23 there, that wasn’t enough.
Scoring the last 10 points, Hope —last year’s Class 3A state champ — made the final score deceiving.
Garretson finished with 14 points and Bryan Parnell had 12 to join him and Patterson in double figures. Patterson had four of the Rams’ six 3-pointers; Parnell had the other two. (RRHS was 6 of 23, unofficially, from behind the arc.)
“They’re a great program; Jim Murphy does a great job with them,” Salata said of the Huskies, 8-1 overall and 7-1 this season vs. Class 5A teams. The Huskies’ only loss was a 70-64 loss to visiting Eldorado on Dec. 6.
Salata was asked if he’ll look back at this one as “the one that got away.”
“No, No. 1, Hope is a very good basketball team,” he replied. “I was disappointed in our start — we got behind by 17 points.
“I think (RRHS) teams in the past for us would have stopped playing and we would’ve got blown out by 30. It shows a lot of character on our part to come back and take a four-point lead, 54-50 … and then we kind of reverted to not boxing out.
“I think that was the key in the fourth quarter: When they were missing shots, we weren’t boxing out, so they got two or three shots at the basket. Second place is good for us, because this is the best finish we’ve had in our tournament,” Salata said. “I told the guys we might see these guys in 10 days (at the APS Metro Championships).”
The Rams face Highland in the first round; they’re across from a game between Hope Christian and Del Norte.
“We’ve got to learn from this and understand against good teams, we have to execute both offensively and defensively,” Salata said.
Heading into the New Year on a four-day break from practice, Salata said, “I told the kids we played 10 games. We started the season 0-3; we had a stretch where we were 2-2 in one week, and now we finish this week 2-1. That has been an improvement since the beginning of the season, and that’s what we look at. … Are we improving?
“I’m happy that we’re progressing on a week-to-week basis,” he noted. “The APS tournament is loaded with a lot of top-caliber teams.”
After being away from the court Dec. 29-Jan. 1, the Rams will be back in the RAC to get ready for their game with Highland.
“They’re the quickest team that we’ve played all year,” Salata said of the Hornets. “Our other guys have to step up. We’ve got to improve on rebounding.”
Patience will be important, Salata said.
“This is a marathon; this isn’t a sprint. We’ve run 10 miles (games) already and we’ve got 10 miles to go before the real thing (the six-game District 1-5A season) begins.”
Ram dunks: Parnell and Patterson were named to the all-tournament team.
… After the loss to the defending 3A champion Huskies, the Rams slipped to 3-6 all-time against Hope. The Huskies have won the last five meetings, all by double digits; the last three contests have been played at the Holiday Hoops Classic.
… Canyon Randall beat Española Valley 60-57 in the third-place game Saturday; Mayfield beat Oñate 50-39 for fifth place; and Del Norte topped Santa Teresa 55-50 for seventh place.