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Friday, Dec. 30, 2016

Rams in tournament final


The work in progress appears to be working.

Less than a month after getting several players off its state championship football team, and two weeks removed from losing a star player to injury, the Rio Rancho boys basketball team is showing signs of putting all the pieces together.

The Rams used a 19-0 run starting in the third quarter to beat Espanola Valley 79-60 in the semifinals of their own tournament Thursday night.

Rio Rancho will play Las Cruces Onate, which looked impressive in beating Eldorado 69-60, in Friday’s championship game at 7 p.m.

Rio Rancho led just 46-43 with just more than three minutes left in the third quarter when Juan Hurt triggered the decisive run with a three-point shot. He followed up with a conventional 3-point play and added another three-pointer before the quarter was done as the Rams stretched the lead to 16 points at the buzzer.

With Hurt scoring again at the start of the fourth quarter and big men Derrick Reyes and Keshawn Banks hitting free throws, the Rams went up 22 points before the Sun Devils could get on the board. Rio Rancho stretched the margin to 29 points later in the quarter before Rams coach Wally Salata cleared his bench and Espanola Valley cut into the final margin.

With 2016 Gatorade player of the year Clay Patterson sidelined by a knee injury, Hurt has picked up the scoring and leadership roles. He led four Rams in double figures with 20 points against the Sun Devils. 

Reyes had14, Banks 11 and David Patterson 10 for Rio Rancho, and two other players,  Jeremy Snider and Blaine Gallegos, just missed with nine each.

Al 11 players on the Rio Rancho roster played; nine of them scored.

In contrast, Espanola Valley had only two players in double figures – A.Z. Salazar with 19 and Christian Fernandez with 13. The next highest totals were two players with seven each.

The Sun Devils rely on the three-pointer as a staple in their methodical offense, but had just six on the night compared to eight for the Rams. Only one came after Rio Rancho made its run.

Games begin today with new District 1-6A member Piedra Vista playing El Paso Socorro for seventh place at 1 p.m., followed by Hope Christian against Las Cruces Mayfield for fifth place at 3 p.m.

Hope Christian, which has won a state championship in seven of the past eight seasons (five in Class 3A, the last two in Class 4A), was knocked off by Class 6A Onate 67-64 in Wednesday’s opening round.  

The Huskies rebounded with a 61-49 victory on Thursday. Mayfield beat Socorro 53-50 in the other second-round game.

In the first round the Rams defeated Mayfield 59-50, with the inside tandem of Reyes (12 points) and Banks (10) leading the way. Hurt and Joe Elmalhy had nine each. 

The other opening-day scores: Eldorado dominated Piedra Vista 67-28 and Espanola Valley beat Socorro 59-50, ironically the same score posted by the Rams and Trojans.

Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016

EVENING DRIVE: Juan Hurt (12) goes tot  he basket for Rio Rancho against Artesia in the title game of the City of Champions Classic as teammate Joe Elmally looks on. The home team prevailed 53-50.

Rams fall in Artesia final

Special to

Sports Editor
Carlsbad Current-Argus

ARTESIA – Bryce McAlister finally got his shot against the Rio Rancho Rams.

Four of them, in fact. And he took full advantage.

Playing for Carlsbad last year, McAlister couldn’t compete in the state tournament due to a torn ACL. But on Saturday night, now play for Artesia, the senior wing man hit four key free throws to lift the Bulldogs to a 53-50 victory and the City of Champions Classic title.

With the Bulldogs trailing by a point in the closing minute, the 6-7 McAlister drove the baseline from the right side heading and was fouled. He calmly sank both free throws to give Artesia the lead 52-51.

Rio Rancho senior guard Juan Hurt had an opportunity to give the Rams the lead. He drove inside against Artesia’s big men but was whistled for going at an offensive foul.

"Juan wants to make a play happen,” Rio Rancho head coach Wally Salata. “But in that particular place, when they had two post guys come up, he should've dished the ball off. If he had dished the ball off, we'd get a layup.

"Usually Clay (Patterson) is the one taking that play. Juan hasn't been in that situation."

Patterson sustained a dislocated knee cap in Thursday’s first-round game and is expected to be sidelined for at least a month.
The Rams’ pressure defense nearly forced a turnover on the ensuing possession. But with the ball rolling loose near center court, McAlister snatched it up and was fouled again.

McAlister knocked down two more free throws, giving Artesia the final three-point margin with six seconds left.

Hurt’s desperation 3-pointer from the left corner was off as time expired.

“Bryce is our guy. Down the stretch there at the end, we’re going to get him the ball,” Artesia coach Michael Mondragon said “His teammates have faith in him to either make a play or find somebody else that’ll make a play. 

"I couldn't be prouder. We just made enough plays there at the end to find a way to win."

In winning in front of their home fans, the Bulldogs also denied a second Rio Rancho championship in three years.

It was a mixed bag of thoughts from Salata – disappointed with the Rams closed this game but overall content with his team’s overall performance in the tournament.

“We had multiple turnovers in the last two minutes of the game,” Salata said. “We’ve got to do a better job taking care of the basketball.

“We had an opportunity to win. Artesia played great. 

“We played three very good basketball teams. To beat Las Cruces and Carlsbad and then play Artesia, that's as good as it gets in a tournament. Maybe that took a little bit out of us, playing the tough competition."

The Rams started strong in the first couple minutes with their outside shooting, one of their notorious calling cards. The Bulldogs responded playing more up-tempo, bolting up and down the floor. Artesia had deep outlet passes and set up quick shots.

"When the ball went to one side of the floor, the opposite guard wasn't dropping back as a safety,” Salata said. “So, they got some really easy buckets. 

“They jumped on us right away. We'll learn from this."
The Rams (5-3) return to action at home on Friday against Valley at 7 p.m.

"We've got to lick our wounds, and we've got to get ready to play next week against a good Valley team," Salata said.

Artesia is 3-0 after starting its season with the  tournament.

Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016

DRIVING: Juan Hurt (12( takes the ball to the basked on Carlsbad big man Brenden Boatwright in Friday's game. The Rams advanced to the City of Champions Classic championship game with a hard-fought 63=58 victory in a rematch of last season's Class 6A title game, also won by the Rams. (Photo by 
Matt Hollinshead, 
Carlsbad Current-Argu).

Rams in Artesia finals;
Storm win by 50 points

Special to

Sports Editor
Carlsbad Current-Argus

ARTESIA – In a highly-anticipated rematch of last season’s 6A state championship game, Carlsbad and Rio Rancho both had their struggles trying to gain the upper-hand in Friday’s City of Champions semifinals.

In the end, the Rams – motivated by losing star point guard Clay Patterson a day earlier, outlasted the Cavemen in round two, 63-58.

Patterson dislocated his right kneecap against Las Cruces on Thursday and will be out for at least a month.

"When fell behind by 10 points in the first quarter, we kept grinding,” Rio Rancho coach Wally Salata said. “We used all our players on the bench so when we got in foul trouble, we're grinding.

“I'm excited to win a game when a teammate is hurt. That's what we have to do going forward,"

Carlsbad developed that 10-point lead in the opening minutes, but Rio Rancho got some big stops in the passing lanes, then scored off of those plays.

The Rams committed their 10th foul midway through the third quarter, putting Carlsbad in the double bonus and giving the Cavemen extra trips at the free throw line the rest of the game.

Still, the Rams found a way.

"Those kids really wanted it, and I saw it in their faces,” Carlsbad coach Jamaal Brown said. “That's the team that beat us last year up at the Pit.

"You've got to come out fast. You've got to come out scoring buckets and getting stops on defense, and I thought those kids did a great job. That's just a testament to their preparation.

As for his team, now 3-3, “I loved our kids' intensity level. I love the fact they got after it, didn't back down against one of the better teams in the state." 

Carlsbad repeatedly drove to the basket, but struggled to capitalize several and-one scoring opportunities.

Although six of Rio Rancho’s 11 players on the floor picked up at least three fouls, none of them fouled out. The Rams also forced a few key Cavemen turnovers late in the fourth quarter, including a five-second violation on the baseline near the visitor’s bench.

"We've got to do a better job of taking care of the ball," Brown said.

Rio Rancho caught up, and finally got the lead, by knocking down big shots and draining their free throws.
"We knew that Carlsbad does turn the ball over a lot against pressure, so we decided to extend the game 90 feet," Salata said. "If we go back and play our zone, then that's where (Brenden) Boatwright and (Chris) Johnson are able to do things. 

“We did a great job of staying with them."

The 6-9 Boatwright had just eight points (all in the second half), but also tallied five rebounds, five blocks and six steals. Johnson had 12 points, eight rebounds and two steals.

Rams senior guard Juan Hurt had a game-high 25 points, as well as one assist, three rebounds and six steals. Senior Jeremy Snider had 16 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Rio Rancho (5-2) will face the host school, Artesia, forthe title tonight. The Bulldogs beat Gallup 63-40 in theother semifinal.
A victory would be the second City of Champions title in three years for the Rams.

Carlsbad will face the Gallup for third place.

Read more about the tournament at

UP AND DOWN: Tyrique Weaver goes up for the first of his four dunks against El Paso Irvin Friday night ...

... and seems to celebrate as the ball clears the net.


Sssssh. Don’t tell anybody, but Cleveland High has a really damned good basketball team.

While much of the off-season chatter was whether arch-rival Rio Rancho could repeat as state champs, or could big men in Carlsbad and Albuquerque High lead their teams to the title, the Storm changed head coaches and went about their business.

The result? To paraphrase from former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson and make the time adjustment from the college to the high school game: 32 minutes of hell.

How good is Cleveland? Consider some number’s from Friday’s 105-55 massacre of El Paso Irvine on the second day of the round-robin Cleveland Storm tournament:

*A 43-point third quarter, a quarter in which the Rockets had 15 points and 13 turnovers.

*Hitting triple digits despite playing 28 percent of the game (nine of 32 minutes) with a running clock.

*Making 2.5 times the total field (42, including six three-pointers and four dunks by senior Tyrique Weaver) as their opponent did.

*And posting a 50-point final margin after leading by just 10 early in the third quarter.

At one point, Cleveland didn’t let the Rockets get past half court on seven of eight possessions. That statistic is unofficial; things were happening so fast and furious it was difficult for people taking notes to keep track.

It brought to mind another H word – the all-time great Hobbs teams of the 1970s and 80s. Not just to sportswriters on the sideline, but Cleveland coach Sean Jimenez.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but my father was the only Hispanic starter for (legendary Hobbs coach) Ralph Tasker back in the60s,” Jimenez said. “And  obviously (Cleveland assistant) Coach (Wallace) Williams played for Coach Tasker. 

“I grew up around the press and with my dad telling us all about it. I know I’m the coach of this  team, but  I haven’t seen teams press like this since Hobbs."

Neither has anybody else.

And all of this  was done with 11 of 13 players scoring (four in double figures), with Marcus Hill leading the way with 19. By contrast, Irvin had just one player score more than 10 -- Meshach Thorton (18, including eight-of-eight at the free throw line.)

This is one case you can't  blame the boss for coach-speak of "I want to watch the film," becuase you can slow that down to make sure of what you saw.

"When I watch the film, I wantto see how  any possessions in a row they didn't even get it past our free throw line," Jimenez said. "When you have Tyrique up there, I'll tell you there were times they had  guys open but he was traooubg abd they couldnt throw the ball out of it. You can't be more pleased than the effort in the third quarter." 

After halftime the Storm adjusted its press, putting the 6-7 Weaver on the man guarding the ball out of bounds.and/or the Rocket who caught the inbounds pass. The result was the shorter Irvin players couldn's see around or over Weaver, and the turnover fest was on.

Irvin coach Anthony Sanchez agreed that Weaver's defense in the third quarter was the difference.

"We  knew it was coming," Irvin coacg Abtgibt Sanchez said. "And the big guy really turned it up. He started getting his hands on everything. He's a great athlete. We haven't played against someone like him this year."

Early on, Irvin seemed to be able to able to handle the Cleveland pressure well enough, and make enough shots, to hang in the game. The Storm gradually pulled away and got a 19 point lead in the second quarter, but the Rockets narrowed it down to 46-33 at halftime.

Irvin cut the margin to 10 at the start of the half before, going back to Coach Richardson, all hell broke loose.

"In the first half we were down 19 and the reason we came back is we were able to slow the game down," Sanchez said. "We just cleared the court and let our guards handle it, and  if the trap came we hit the open guy. In the second half we didn't handle the trap . We put our heads down and  wanted to dribble through it. 

"The first  half we passed through it; the second half we tried to dribble through it."

The Rockets had a couple of opportunities to perhaps get closer, but turnovers and/or missed shots led to Storm and-one baskets that gave Cleveland  about a net 12-point swing that started the third-quarter avalache. All in all it was quite a lernijng experience for the young Rocckets, who have some athletic talent, especially among six underclassmen.

"It's on the job training," Sanchez said.

But it was job well done by the Storm, especially after intermissiohn. 
So what magic words did Jimenez offer to inspire such an effort?

"I said, 'Quit fouling, andfor every point they get over 50 we'll be  running. 

"So we've got five sprints to do."

In six victories this season, Cleveland has outscored its opponents  463-293, an average of 77.8 to 48.8 points per game. That's a difference of 29 points per game.

The 55 Cleveland gave up to Irvin is the most points its surrendered all year. No wonder Jimenez is making his team run sprints for poor defense.

But any extra running the Storm mayhave done has been well worth it. To get such an effort inthe  second of back-to-back nights was a good sign for what this team hopes to accomplish.

"We're really well conditioned. We do have toughness, plus we've got 13 kids. And all 13 kids that got in there did something good, and that's just unbelievable," Jimenez said. "If somebody can show me a deeper team in the state, I'd like to see it. I'm not saying better, but deeper. It doesnt matter who I call off the bench, they're just ready to play."

One might think that could get to be a dilemna, having too much talent. Many have suggested former coach Brian Smith, who also had great success with the Storm, left in part because some parents objected when their sons didn't get as much playing time in favor of a deeper bench.

Its a situation that Jimenez is willing to face.

"It's betterto have that problem than nothave enough athletes," he said. "There are duffeebt nights when we call different numbers off the bench, and the guys have just got  to be ready to play our style of basketball. It could be Justin Ainsworth, Josh Terry, Isiah Molina, Jacob Medina -- it really doesn't matter. When we come off the bench, we really don't drop off a level.

"These boys -- when they put their minds toit, they are a pretty tough group."

The tournament concludes today with West Mesa (1-4) playing Irvin (2-8) at 3 p.m. before the Storm takes on another another undefeated team, Los Lunas (4-0), at 3 p.m. The Tigers knocked off West Mesa 45-35 on Friday.

"They want to keep the game in the  40s. They're going to try to slow our pace down," Jimenez said. "It's very hard to slow us down when we get into full-court pressure, but they are going to be tough. Travis Julian is a really good coach, and they're well-coached and well-disciplined. 

"We'll see if they can run with us for four quarters. If they can, more power to them."  

Friday, Dec. 9, 2015

TAKING IT TO THE HOLE: Clay Patterson drives the lane Thursday in the second quarter against Las Cruces. The senior guard injured his right knee in the fourth quarter and his status is uncertain. (
Matt Hollinshead, 
Carlsbad Current-Argu).

Rams, Storm win;
Patterson inured

While Cleveland easily took care of West Mesa in the first round of its tournament on Thursday, the biggest news in City of Vision boys basketball was taking place 200 miles to the south. 

Clay Patterson, the New Mexico player of the year for 2015-16 after leading the 11th-seeded Rio Rancho Rams to the Class 6A championship, sustained a hyper-extended right kneecap early in the fourth quarter against Las Cruces in the opening round of the City of Champions Classic in Artesia.

Though trainers were able to get the kneecap back in place, it is unclear what, if any, structural damage he may have sustained. Rio Rancho coach Wally Salata said Patterson would be getting an x-ray later Thursday that could tell much more about the injury.
Patterson’s grandfather Dan said his son (Clay’s father) Dave had sent him a text message saying he could be out at least a month.


"Time will tell," Salata said. "That just means other guys will have to pick up their game. The list goes on for us."

No matter the timetable for recovery/rehab, the injury comes at an especially bad time for Rio Rancho. The Rams just got several players on the team after finishing an undefeated state football championship run and Salata had hoped to use this tournament, along with its own the week after Christmas and the APS Metro tournament in early January, to get his former football players into basketball shape and develop the team chemistry with the basketball-only type players like Patterson.

Now the big question is: Who will be the Rams' next go-to scoring punch? They’ve have find out soon.  Today they play Carlsbad, including 6-9 inside force Brenden Boatwright, in a rematch of the state title game in March.

About two minutes into the fourth quarter, Patterson snagged an offensive rebound and set himself up to score on the put-back. He landed awkwardly and his right kneecap popped out.

Patterson was down for several minutes, clutching his right knee in agony as the Rams bench watched helplessly.

"It's really tough to see Clay go down. He's our creator, and we need him on the court with us," senior guard Juan Hurt said. "It did terrify us. It was gruesome, and we all knew that we needed to stay together."

Patterson was able get back up, but went straight to the athletic training room and didn't return.

Salata said Patterson's right kneecap was hyperextended and popped out upon impact, but the training staff managed to pop it back into place.

"It's hard when your best player goes down," Salata said. "I told them 'We've got to be mentally tough. We've got to finish the game.' "

Patterson got the offense going early on, scoring and assisting on some key transition buckets, even facilitating some crafty plays for Hurt. After scoring on back-to-back 3-poinyrtd from the right corner off of deep passes by Patterson, Hurt repeatedly attacked the post, drew contact and went to the foul line.

"We feed off each other. We've been playing for many, many years now," Hurt said.

Rio Rancho took control early in the game with some fast-break points when Las Cruces had some scoring droughts that lasted at least a couple minutes each time.

"Good teams need to play both sides of the ball," Hurt said.

Hurt had a game-high 22 points (14 in the second half), three rebounds

PICKING UP THE SLACK: Senior guard Juan Hurt led the Rams in scoring on Thursday. (
Matt Hollinshead, 
Carlsbad Current-Argu.


and one steal. Patterson had 13 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals before he went down.

Junior forward Keyshawn Banks, fresh off the football field, had 12 points,
five rebounds and one steal.

"Everyone looks at us as defending champs, but we still have to take on
every single game as different," Hurt said.

IN TRANSITION: Less than a week after playing in the Class 6A football championship game, Keshwan Banks scores for the Rams in the second quarter. (
Matt Hollinshead, 
Carlsbad Current-Argu)

Rio Rancho, (4-2)is looking to win the City if Champions Classic title for the second time in three years. To do so they’ll have to beat a Carlsbad team that will be seeking a measure of revenge.

The Cavemen (2-2) advanced to the semifinals with a hard-fought 53-50 victory over El Paso Parkland. On of Carlsbad’s losses was last Friday at Cleveland, 68-54.

--Matt Hollinshead 
Sports Editor
Carlsbad Current-Argus
Click here to read Matt’s coverage of the tournament.


At Cleveland High, the undefeated Storm (5-0) used big second and third quarters to blow out the Mustangs.

Cleveland led just 15-11 after one quarter in its opener in the Cleveland Storm Classic, but blitzed the Mustangs 49-25 over the next two quarters.

The Storm outscored West Mesa 24-9 in the second period to open up a 39-20 halftime lead, then outscored the Mustangs by 11 points (25-14) in the third period.

The Storm continue play in the four-team round robin tournament at 7 p.m. against El Paso Irvin. Cleveland will close out the tournament Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. against Los Lunas.

The Tigers beat Irvin 61-49 in Thursday’s opener.
-Staff report

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