Special to The-SCORE.info
By MATT HOLLINSHEAD
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.