Hawks fly past Rams ... but just barely

The District 1-6A basketball season, for the boys anyway, comes down to Friday night.

With its easy victory over visiting Piedra Vista tonight (Feb. 9), following a 68-28 romp over Cibola in the Storm Center on Thursday evening, No. 4 Cleveland (18-7, 6-1) only needs to beat defending champ Volcano Vista in the Ring of Fire to become the regular-season champ and host the district tournament title tilt on Feb. 24.

The Storm beat the Hawks 74-65 in the Storm Center on Feb. 1.

Rio Rancho (13-11, 3-3) has a stranglehold on third place in the district, although the Rams came close to putting the district in jeopardy of a three-way tie for the top spot, only to lose to visiting Volcano Vista Thursday evening in the RAC.

As it looks today, the winner of the Cleveland-VVHS game would be the host for the championship game at 7:30 on the 24th.

"We’re gonna have to have four great days of practice, starting Monday," CHS coach Sean Jimenez said. "It’s gonna be tough to win at their place."

Here’s how we got there:

Cleveland 82, Piedra Vista 47: Opening Senior Night on a 16-4 run, the Storm were never threatened, leading by 14 at the end of the first quarter, by 29 at halftime and by 39 at the end of the third period.

By game’s end, the Cleveland bench had matched the qunitet of Piedra Vista starters, combining for 29 points.Jayden Phillips and Aamer Muhammad led the Storm with 16 points apiece; Jalen Munn had 13 and freshman Tre Watson came off the bench to add 11.

Did Jimenez have any thoughts the mismatch could be a "trap game?"

"No question. We told our boys every game matters, and we can’t look ahead at all," he said. "I knew they’d be ready to play for Senior Night."

Cleveland 68, Cibola 28: Munn led the Storm with 20 points, and 10 of his teammates also got into the scoring column in the 40-point rout of the Cougars (5-17, 1-5) "down the hill" Thursday evening.

The Storm collected an impressive 24 offensive rebounds en route to the win.

Volcano Vista 63, Rams 61: In what looked to be a blowout, with the defending-champion Hawks owning a 13-point advantage in the first half and the Rams only leading once the entire game (at 3-2), this one came down to a 10-minute game, after an 8-0 Rams run knotted the contest at 40 with 2:19 left in the third period.

The fifth-ranked Hawks, beating the Rams in the RAC for the fourth time in a row, later led by seven, 56-49, and time was running out on the Rams, whose 2016-17 season ended in a first-round loss to the visiting Hawks.

Kenny Noland drained a 3-pointer with 13.3 seconds to go, knotting the game for the second and final time at 61.

Unlikely Hawks hero Ben Manzano, coming off the bench to score seven of his nine points in the fourth quarter, drove in for the game-winning layup with 5.4 showing on the clock, and Isaiah Chavez’s "Hail Mary" shot from behind the half-court line wasn’t even close.

Derrick Reyes led the Rams with 20 points, while Blaine Gallegos had 13 and Royce Olney added 10. David Patterson had an off-game, managing only 5 points, all in the fourth period.

"Guys gotta understand when you’re playing a good team, you have to box-out on the free-throw line," RRHS coach Wally Salata said.

The Rams were out-rebounded at both ends of the court; going 13-of-22 at the foul line also played a role.

Jorell Phillips notched five 3s en route to a team-high 18 points for the Hawks (15-6, 4-1), who played at Cibola Saturday.

"I really thought the third quarter was good for us," Salata said, a 14-10 Rams advantage, although RRHS made only one of five foul shots in that eight-minute stretch.

"We’re disappointed, yes," he said. "But, again, to beat a good team, you have to do everything correct. We’ll talk about it.

"We’re 3-3 in district with two games left; we can still finish 5-3, third in district," Salata added.