Rams in tournament final

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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.

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